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Tory MP’s Suspension Triggers Another By-Election, Adding To Sunak’s Challenges

Rishi Sunak is all set to confront yet another by-election following a 35-day suspension from the Commons for former Tory MP Scott Benton, stemming from his involvement in a lobbying sting. On Tuesday, MPs swiftly approved the suspension without even bringing it to a vote. 

The length of Benton’s suspension means that he is now facing a recall petition. If 10% of his constituents sign it, a by-election will be triggered in his seat. Should this occur, the number of by-elections held during Sunak’s tenure as Prime Minister will reach 11. 

Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds has called for the immediate resignation of Mr. Benton to spare his constituents the cost of a recall petition. She stated, “Scott Benton’s lobbying brought himself, the Conservatives, and the Parliament into disrepute.”

She further added, “This is indicative of a weak Conservative Prime Minister who promised professionalism, integrity, and accountability and has delivered nothing but sleaze, scandal, and chaos.” 

In April 2023, Benton had the Tory whip removed after suggesting to undercover reporters at The Times that he would break lobbying rules for money. He offered to lobby ministers on behalf of the gambling industry and leak confidential policy documents for up to £4,000 a month. 

The parliament’s standards committee investigated this matter and found Benton in a “very serious breach” of the rules, thus issuing a 35-day suspension from the Commons. 

Benton has denied any wrongdoing and appealed to the Independent Expert Panel (IEP),  a body that sits above the standards committee. He appealed on the grounds that the investigating procedure was flawed and that the committee leaked the decision. However, he lost his appeal against the suspension last week. 

The IEP, while dismissing the appeal, stated that they “found no substance” in his arguments. 

Benton is the MP for Blackpool South, one of the most deprived areas of England. Historically, this has always been a “red wall” seat, supporting the Labour Party from 1997 until Benton’s win in 2019. 

The petition for by-election in this seat will be open from 12th March to 22nd April. Labour has chosen left-wing trade unionist Chris Webb as their prospective candidate for this seat. Notably, Labour has comfortably won recent by-elections in Wellingborough, Kingswood, Wakefield, Selby, and Mid Bedfordshire. 

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