By-election battle after MP quits

VOTERS in Emersons Green will be among thousands going to the polls in February after Kingswood MP Chris Skidmore resigned, prompting a by-election.

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

The 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 he could “no longer condone nor continue to support a government that is committed to a course of action that I know is wrong”.

He also refused to back the Conservatives in the by-election to replace him, 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 once worked in Mr Skidmore’s office but now works for 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.” 

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 for new homes in South Gloucestershire Council’s local plan, which is 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 later moved to London and was elected to Lewisham Council in 2010, becoming directly-elected mayor of the borough in 2018.

He has resigned as Lewisham’s mayor to stand in the by-election.

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, 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.”

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.”

The Greens were due to select their candidate after the Voice went to print, either: Bristol councillor Lorraine Francis, the party’s candidate for the Bristol North East seat, or South Glos 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.”

Reform UK, the successor to the Brexit Party, is standing in the by-election, despite leader Richard Tice initially refusing and branding it a “grotesque abuse of taxpayers’ cash”.

The party’s business spokesman and former Southampton FC chairman Rupert Lowe has been selected and promised that if elected, his “entire net MP salary will be donated to local Kingswood charities”.

The battleground

The Kingswood constituency 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 in 2019 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  third with 7%, the Greens fourth with 2% and an animal welfare candidate polled 1%.

The Kingswood constituency includes Emersons Green, Siston Hill, Blackhorse and Mangotsfield. It also covers part of Lyde Green, but roads off Honeysuckle Drive, Jenner Boulevard and Elderflower Drive are in the neighbouring Thornbury & Yate constituency.

It also includes Kingswood, Hanham and Longwell Green.

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

Emersons Green and all of Lyde Green will move into the Filton & Bradley Stoke constituency, while Mangotsfield and the Siston Hill estate become part of Bristol North East.

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