Peter Bone - what happens now?
MP for Wellingborough Peter Bone could face a key commons vote today following findings that he bullied a former member of staff and exposed his genitals close to his face.
Last Monday (October 16) a report was published by the parliamentary watchdog that found Mr Bone had committed a series of serious acts against a young aide including telling him to give him massages and pushing beds together in a shared hotel room.
He also repeatedly shouted at him and hit him. The independent watchdog said the behaviour amounted to both bullying and sexual misconduct over a three month period in 2012.
The panel recommended a six-week suspension from Parliament. This suspension must be ratified by MPs in parliament which is set to take place tonight. Standing orders require the committee on standards to make a report to the house recommending an identical suspension in order to trigger a recall petition.
What has happened since then?
In an initial denial, Mr Bone published a statement on Twitter rebuffing all the allegations, calling them ‘false and untrue’ and claiming the independent investigation was flawed. He has already exhausted the Standards Committee’s own appeal process.
Since then, he has not publicly commented on the allegations to any reporter from any news outlet, including this one. He has, however, tweeted on other issues.
Last Tuesday (October 17) Tory chief whip Simon Hart removed the whip from Bone which means he is technically sitting as an independent MP. Despite that, he has continued to support Wellingborough’s Conservative candidate in the forthcoming town council by-election and has posted smiling pictures on Twitter of him door-knocking with her and his partner Cllr Helen Harrison, who sits on North Northamptonshire Council’s executive, and is demonstrably standing by him.
Corby MP Tom Pursglove, who has long been close friends with Mr Bone and has worked alongside him on many local issues as well as the Brexit ‘Leave’ campaign, has not publicly mentioned his pal’s situation and has not tweeted any support for him since news of the allegations broke.
Wellingborough Labour party has repeatedly called for Mr Bone to resign.
In a BBC interview published this morning, the former aide said he had been left ‘a broken shell of a young man’ by Mr Bone’s behaviour.
What is happening today?
The item is listed as the final item of main business on today’s order paper which could take place in the early evening.
Technically, no vote is needed and the motion can simply be approved by the house without a vote ,which is the usual way of doing things.
A vote is only called if an MP shouts ‘no’. It’s expected that the Labour Party will engineer a vote in order to ensure the names of all MPs voting are recorded by getting a couple of their own MPs to shout up.
These Labour MPs will then need to vote themselves against the motion.
MPs will then vote on whether to ratify the recommended six week suspension. It is a free vote, meaning MPs of all sides can vote any way they wish.
All eyes locally will be on the votes of the other six Conservative MPs in Northamptonshire.
Labour MPs are said to be confident that they will get the numbers they need for the suspension to go ahead.
Local party members have contacted this newspaper to express dismay that Mr Bone has allegedly attempted to use a technicality to avoid the vote. His supporters have claimed that because the bullying took place before 2015, when recall legislation was introduced, it should not be applied retrospectively. This has not been accepted by Parliament and the vote will go ahead.
Because of the length of the suspension from Parliament, it will automatically trigger a ‘recall petition,’ which could then force a by-election in the constituency.
How does the recall petition work?
Parliament’s petition officer will arrange for the petition to be open for six weeks. Electors may sign in person at a signing station or sign by post or by proxy. The location of signing stations will be publicised.
For a recall petition to be successful, 10 per cent of eligible registered voters need to sign the petition. In Wellingborough this means about 8,000 people will need to sign the petition.
If the 10 per cent threshold is reached, the petition officer informs the Speaker of the House of Commons Lindsay Hoyle MP. At that point, the seat becomes vacant and a by-election is then required. This may not take place until early next year.
Mr Bone will be eligible to stand as an independent candidate. He may also stand as a Tory provided the whip has been returned to him and that he is selected by local party members as their official candidate – two hurdles that he may not be able to overcome.
The timing of a UK Parliamentary by-election is determined by custom of the House of Commons. The party that previously held the seat will usually decide when to trigger the by-election.
If the 10 per cent threshold is not reached the recall fails and the MP retains their seat.
What do local party members think?
No local party members have yet professed any public support for Mr Bone, aside from his partner Helen Harrison who has appeared in pictures with him on Twitter. Their canvassing group has not been joined by any other local campaigners.
Local party members have spoken to this newspaper to express their shock at what has happened.
One said: “I feel we have been duped because we re-selected Mr Bone as our parliamentary candidate in July last year and the wider membership had absolutely no idea of what was going on unless they were in his inner circle.
"Why is he still out campaigning when he’s had the whip withdrawn?”
At a North Northamptonshire Council Conservative group meeting earlier this week, no mention of Mr Bone was made and people who were previously his key allies were not in attendance.
One local member told this newspaper that they are concerned that there is still significant support for Mr Bone within the local party and that if he is re-selected it could mean the Wellingborough seat is lost.
Labour members have also been out canvassing in the Queensway ward where the town council byelection is set to take place in November.
Rushden Branch Labour Party secretary Chris Ashton said on Twitter: “Good night on the doorstep in Queensway. Very positive, lots of people hoping that parliament do the right thing and vote to suspend Bone.”
And another Labour canvasser said: “The sentiment overall has been a mix of anger and disgust, a sense of yet another Tory scandal.
"A lot of people have expressed for quite some time that they want an MP that actually represents them, and that was before this information came to light. On the doorstep and at street stalls, people are telling us they’re fed up with the failure to get basic services right, fed up of struggling to make ends meet and have nothing left at the end of the month.
"They never see a police officer, no one clears up fly tipping, and that Mr Bone has done nothing to address any of these local concerns.”
Who could stand if a by-election is triggered?
Labour do not yet have a candidate in Wellingborough. Members locally have expressed frustration with the situation over the past few months, before the allegations against Mr Bone were exposed, and are now trying to expedite the process.
This newspaper understands names in the frame include Chris Ashton and town councillor and former borough councillor Tony Aslam.
For the Tories, Peter Bone is likely to put up a fight for his seat although there has not been a lot of visible support for him outside of his core group of allies.
Other names that have been mentioned to this paper include his Corby-born partner Helen Harrison, who is on the party’s preferred candidates list and has previously stood unsuccessfully in two seats. There may be local opposition to this due to her ongoing links with Mr Bone.
Other local politicians who this paper has told could have a run at the seat include outspoken Conservative Earls Barton councillor Scott Brown and Queensway member Matt Binley, who is the son of former Northampton MP Brian Binley and has previously served time in prison for covering up a drink drive offence.
The Liberal Democrats are also likely to put up a strong candidate with the hope of attracting disgruntled Tory voters. A range of other parties are expected to stand, mirroring recent by-elections in Tamworth and Mid-Bedfordshire – which were both won by Labour who overturned huge Tory majorities.