Is Somerton and Frome next?
The Honiton & Tiverton by-election result is raising hopes for the LibDems in Somerton & Frome. Even before last nights implosion of the Conservative vote, noises were being made. Liberal Democrat candidate for Somerton & Frome Sarah Dyke told us yesterday: “In the event of any by-election, the Liberal Democrats will be fighting hard as the main challengers to the Conservatives, following our incredible results in Somerset at May’s local elections.”
Until 2015 The Somerton & Frome constituency had been a marginal. It was held for 4 consecutive elections by LibDem David Heath without ever having a winning margin of more than 3,000 votes. In 2015 David Warburton won the seat convincingly. His vote has always been over 30,000 and he had a majority of 19,213 at the 2019 election. He has been a well regarded constituency MP. That may soon count for nothing.
The LibDems have just overturned a 24,000 majority in the Honiton & Tiverton by-election.
Meanwhile incumbent MP David Warburton is suspended from the Conservative Party. That was over allegations of sexual misconduct. Mr Warburton has strenuously denied these. An investigation was launched by Parliament’s Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme (ICGS) and that too is ongoing.
Now he is to be investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone OBE. This is a new investigation and the Commissioner is an independent officer of the House of Commons. The allegations are that he received and failed to register a gift and that he had undeclared paid advocacy. Again Mr Warburton strenuously denies these allegations.
However with investigations ongoing, Mr Warburton is unable to comment.
Sarah Dyke is making the most of the situation reminding voters: “The people of Somerton and Frome have been without a voice in Parliament now for almost six months. As the cost of living crisis bites, we need a strong voice in Westminster that will stand up for local communities.” Maths is clearly not her strong point.
She goes on to say “It’s right that the Standards Commissioner is investigating the extremely concerning allegations from the media that David Warburton took a secret loan from a Russian businessman. If there is any truth to these reports, David Warburton should do the honourable thing and resign as our MP.”
And she is right.
The problem being we do not yet know if the allegations are true or not. We should not have to wait long to find out.
The problem Mr Warburton has is that the political momentum is against him. If the two separate reports into his behaviour do not give him a 100% bill of health, his position will become untenable. And as long as Boris Johnson remains as Prime Minister, the LibDems will relish another by-election in the west country.