By-election battle after MP quits

VOTERS in Mangotsfield and parts of Downend will be among thousands going to the polls in February after Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore resigned.

Conservative Mr Skidmore said he was standing down over the government’s Offshore Petroleum Licensing Bill, which would “cause future harm” through the promotion of new oil and gas production.

A by-election will be held on February 15, one of two where Labour will attempt to overturn a big Tory majority to put further pressure on Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, in a year when a general election must be called.

Whoever wins the by-election will only be the MP for Kingswood for a matter of months, as the constituency is due to be abolished at the next general election.

Mr Skidmore said he was standing down because, as a former energy minister who signed the UK’s commitment to net zero carbon emissions into law, he could “no longer condone nor continue to support a government that is committed to a course of action that I know is wrong and will cause future harm”.

He also refused to back the Conservatives in the by-election, saying he now intended to be “free from any party-political allegiance”.

The Tories have selected their group leader on South Gloucestershire Council, Sam Bromiley, to defend the seat.

The Parkwall & Warmley councillor, who works for the support organisation the Helplines Partnership, said: “I am honoured to have been selected to represent the area I grew up in and where I have lived all my life.

“I am committed to serving our local area, by growing our local economy, protecting our  green spaces, and giving people the tools and the choice to work hard and achieve. 

“I have lived here my whole life, first in Hanham and now Longwell Green.”

In an indication of the main theme of the Conservative by-election campaign, he said he would “work hard to stop Labour’s disastrous plan to build on the greenbelt” – a reference to proposals in South Gloucestershire Council’s local plan which are currently open for public consultation.

Sam added: “This area has always been my home and I want to deliver for my community by bringing  more investment, supporting our small businesses, and protecting our green spaces.” 

Labour has picked Damien Egan – selected last year to stand for the new Bristol North East seat, which will replace part of the Kingswood constituency – as its by-election candidate.

Damien, 40, grew up in Kingswood, Downend, Fishponds, St George and Staple Hill, going to school in Kingswood and Hanham.

A Downend and Bromley Heath parish councillor in
2003-7, he moved to London and was elected to Lewisham Council in 2010, becoming directly-elected mayor of the London borough in 2018.

Damien said: “I’m looking forward to being able to go around the areas I grew up in, and give residents a hard-working representative who’s on their side.

“Speaking to residents in Kingswood today, it’s clear that, just like the former MP, people are fed up of this government, and ready for change.

“In just a few weeks, we’ll have the opportunity to send Rishi Sunak a message that it’s time for that change.

“I’m excited to have the opportunity to work together to finally tackle the real issues we are having locally.”

The Liberal Democrats had not selected a candidate as the Voice went to print.

The party’s deputy leader Daisy Cooper said the by-election was the result of “an MP who didn’t want to be associated with the Conservative Party anymore”, adding: “Even Conservative MPs are tired of this Conservative government so it’s no wonder the public is crying out for a general election and an end to this chaos.” 

The Greens were also due to select their candidate after the Voice went to print, from a shortlist of two: Bristol City Councillor Lorraine Francis,
who is the party’s general election candidate for the new Bristol North East constituency, and South Gloucestershire Green Party coordinator Siân Harris, who has lived in the constituency for 25 years. 

The party said: “Residents of Kingswood have the opportunity to elect an MP who will fight to save our green spaces, for today and for future generations. As Kingswood’s former MP argued in his resignation letter, we are facing a climate emergency and the time to act is now.”

One party which has announced it will not contest the by-election is Reform UK, the successor to the Brexit Party.

Party leader Richard Tice said holding a by-election in a constituency that was about to be abolished was a “grotesque abuse of taxpayers’ cash,” adding “Reform UK will not stand a candidate on principle against this disgraceful abuse.”

Kingswood constituency facts

The Kingswood constituency was created in 1974 and has been held by the Conservatives since 2010, when Chris Skidmore won the seat from Labour’s Roger Berry.

Mr Skidmore’s majority at the last general election was 11,220 over Labour’s Nicola Bowden-Jones.

The Tories received 56% of votes cast in 2019, with Labour getting 33%. The Lib Dems were a distant third, with 6.9%, and the Greens fourth with 2.4%. The only other candidate, standing under an animal welfare banner, received 1% of the votes.

The Kingswood constituency includes Mangotsfield, Blackhorse, Emersons Green, part of Lyde Green, and parts of Downend including Westbourne Road, Beaufort Road, homes off Fontwell Drive and parts of Aintree Drive.

The seat will be abolished at the next general election, after a boundary review. Mr Skidmore had already said he would retire from Parliament at the election.

Mangotsfield and the South Gloucestershire electoral wards of New Cheltenham, Kingswood and Woodstock will become part of the new Bristol North East seat, while the other wards currently in the Kingswood constituency will become part of another new seat, North East Somerset & Hanham.

With a general election required to be called by December 17, whoever wins the by-election will be the MP for Kingswood for less than a year.