Bury South MP Christian Wakeford’s defection from the Conservative Party to Labour has left voters questioning whether there will now be a by-election in his constituency.
The MP was elected in 2019 to the Greater Manchester constituency with a slim majority of 402 in a seat that had been Labour since 1997.
His announcement that he was crossing the floor just before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday came as a shock to many, but he is believed to have been in talks with the Opposition since October.
Mr Wakeford said the “partygate” scandal confirmed his decision after “many months” of sleepless nights over the government’s decisions, from free schools meals and Universal Credit to the Owen Paterson affair and lockdown parties.
His defection has raised questions over whether there will be a by-election but, due to the rules it is unlikely.
Does an MP defecting automatically trigger a by-election?
No. There are no rules requiring a by-election if an MP crosses the floor.
Parliament acts on the electoral principle that people vote for individuals, not parties.
There still could be a by-election though, as there is often pressure to call one when an MP defects.
Does Labour, Christian Wakeford’s new party, want a by-election?
A Labour source told Sky News: “There won’t be a by-election”.
Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said she did not think there needed to be a by-election in Bury South but said “bring on” a general election.
She told Sky News: “In the last parliament, when Labour MPs left the party and joined other parties, formed new parties, there weren’t by-elections in those constituencies.
“Indeed, I wasn’t calling for by-elections then but when elected as an MP it is your name people put a cross against.
“Christian Wakeford stood in Bury South, people put a cross against his name as they did against my name in Leeds West.”
But other parts of the Labour Party think there should be a by-election, with the left-wing section Momentum calling for one as they do not think Mr Wakeford should be in the party.
Joshua Harcup, youth officer for Bury South’s Labour Party, is pushing for Mr Wakeford to call a by-election as it is “about democracy”.
He told Sky News: “I think it’s positive that he’s changed his mind but as you can see from some of the Whatsapp messages leaked yesterday, he’s made some comments which are abusive about the Labour Party.
“I would like him to apologise. He would not get my support as our candidate as he doesn’t share Labour values.”
History shows by-elections after a defection are a huge risk
Defections are very rare, and the MP who “crosses the floor” often ends up mistrusted by their old colleagues and new comrades.
Holding a by-election is not required, unless the MP decides to do so.
This precedent was set in 2014 when Tory MPs Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless defected in quick succession to UKIP and both held their seats in by-elections.
But it’s a huge risk and arguably stopped others joining them.
None of the famous Tory to Labour defectors – pro-EU Tory Quentin Davies to Labour in 2007, Alan Howarth to Labour on the eve of its conference in 1995 in a blow to John Major, or Shaun Woodward, a Tory shadow minister to New Labour in 1999, held by-elections.
Tory cabinet ministers are publicly calling for a by-election, but with a majority of 402 in a seat held by Labour since 1997, senior figures privately concede it’s not a contest they are eager for.
Do the Conservatives want a by-election?
Health Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News he would be “very happy with a by-election”.
He added: “I think given that the people of Bury South rightly voted Conservative in 2019, they wanted to get Brexit done, they want to see a strong economy and all of that, and now they’ve got an MP that has changed his affiliation without their permission, why not give them a say?”
Transport Secretary Grant Shapps also backed a by-election in Bury South, telling ITV Mr Wakeford “should front up to his constituents”.
Does Mr Wakeford want a by-election?
He has not said either way since his defection.
However, in 2020, the MP co-sponsored and backed a bill that would enable constituents to recall their MP and call a by-election if they “voluntarily change their political party affiliation”.
Have defectors held by-elections before?
They have. The most recent are Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless who resigned as Conservatives from their seats in 2014, triggering by-elections.
They were both re-elected as UKIP MPs then changed parties again but Mr Reckless then lost his seat and Mr Carswell left politics.
Before that, Labour MP Bruce Douglas-Mann resigned from his Mitcham and Morden seat in 1981 to run for the Social Democratic Party in a by-election, however, he lost.