While most people were watching Usain Bolt power his way to a successful defence of his Olympic 100 metres title last night, the Tory supporting part of the Westminster Village was about to get a nasty jolt: Corby MP Louise Mensch has decided to resign as she effectively admits that her working full time in Parliament, and husband Peter in New York, is not working for them both.
Has she got news for us
Moreover, she is having to balance an MP’s job with being a full-time parent to three young children. Push has finally come to shove, and this means there will be a by-election. I’m quite sure than Ms Mensch thought long and hard before making her decision, especially as the Coalition is less than universally popular out in the country, and this is unlikely to change in the immediate future.
The ideological right will rejoice at her departure, but those able to engage brain before crowing know that losing her is bad not only because of the by-election, but also that it means losing the kind of MP that makes the Tory Party look less hostile to all those swing voters, without whom they are most unlikely to govern alone. And that’s before the by-election prospects are assessed.
Ms Mensch’s majority in 2010 was less than 2,000. This time round, the Lib Dems, whose vote share was their highest since 1987, are unlikely to poll anything like their 14% of 2010, with many of those votes headed for Labour. UKIP did not field a candidate, but will this time, unless the Tories put up a confirmed anti-European to buy them off. There may be Independents joining in.
If the opinion polls remain as they are, and there is no significant local factor in play, then Labour can expect to retake the seat, and with a reasonably comfortable majority. Added to that is the prospect of a less than friendly scrap between the Tories and Lib Dems that has all the likelihood of turning the electorate against both of them. It could be terminally damaging to the Coalition.
Of course, Tory cheerleaders wanting to get their retaliation in first will tell of one by-election not defining the direction of a Parliament, or overshadowing the next nationwide contest. But those same pundits know that they weren’t saying that about Crewe and Nantwich in 2008, and their Labour counterparts weren’t saying it about South-East Staffordshire in 1996.
And that is before considering the internal pressures within the Tory Party if they lose: those on the ideological right will assert that any loss was because they were not conservative enough, putting yet more pressure on Young Dave. As for Louise Mensch, well, she will be well out of it, having at last united her new family as an Englishwoman in New York.
We once again find ourselves living in interesting times.