Is there a mechanism for delaying by-elections?
News from the BBC indicates that Chris Ostrowski, the Labour candidate in Thursday’s by-election in Norwich North, has collapsed at home and been taken to hospital with suspected Swine Flu. Firstly, I’m sure we all wish him a full and speedy recovery – hospitalisation denotes a degree of seriousness, and I have no doubt that partisan feeling can be put aside to wish him the very best.
That said, this could be significant news in relation to the by-election. Lord Mandelson has apparently cancelled his trip to the constituency, given that the candidate has been spending significant time with local party workers. As a candidate in a by-election, Ostrowski would have had contact with many senior figures in the Government lending their support (the BBC website shows him meeting the Chancellor of the Exchequer), and in his absence those figures would normally have supported the final couple of days. Under current circumstances, the Norwich Labour Party doesn’t have a candidate or top-level surrogates on the ground.
Add to that fact the fear of general transmission: I can imagine party workers being just a little less enthused to go around Norwich on behalf of the Labour Party. Firstly, the concern that they will become infected from those who have been working with the candidate for weeks, and secondly the already-potentially-hostile reaction on the doorsteps isn’t likely to be improved by the suspicion that anyone canvassing is a political Typhoid Mary.
I don’t know what the technicalities are of delaying a by-election once the writ has been moved. I’m certainly not aware of it having been done before, though I know someone in the comments will be able to answer both these questions post-haste. A delay would certainly help Labour enormously – give them a chance to hold the by-election later in the year when their polling numbers might be better, or even give them the time to persuade Ian Gibson back into the race. It might also lead to significant rise in sales of tin-foil hats and significant reputational damage, given the near-certainty of a Conservative victory if held this week. Nothing could be more damaging, if mishandled, than the appearance of twisting the rules of democracy to avoid losing.
If the by-election cannot be moved, then Chloe Smith is probably good value even at 1/20. Sympathies go out to Chris Ostrowski, and I hope that he will be sufficiently recovered to attend the count later this week.