MP Scott Benton could potentially be suspended from the House of Commons due to his involvement in a lobbying scandal.

An MP from the Conservative Party’s former Blackpool South constituency is facing a recommendation of a 35-day suspension from parliament. If this punishment is approved by the Commons, it could result in a byelection for the seat. Rishi Sunak, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, would have to deal with yet another challenging byelection.

Scott Benton, who was elected as the MP for Blackpool South in 2019, allegedly offered to lobby government ministers on behalf of the gambling industry and disclose a confidential policy document for a monthly payment of up to £4,000. Undercover journalists, acting as representatives of a fictional investment fund, captured Benton making these claims. He boasted about being able to influence colleagues and gain easy access to ministers while waiting to vote in Parliament.

The Commons standards committee deemed Benton’s actions an incredibly serious violation of parliamentary rules. According to their report, his message to the undercover reporters portrayed him as corrupt and “for sale,” insinuating that other MPs were the same. They condemned Benton for tarnishing the reputation of all parliamentarians with his comments.

The committee recommended a 35-day suspension for Benton, but it must be approved by the Commons. If the punishment goes into effect, Benton, who had already lost the Conservative whip following the allegations, would be facing a byelection.

The Blackpool South constituency is considered part of the “red wall” seats, historically supporting the Labour Party until Benton’s victory in 2019. It is known as one of the most socioeconomically deprived areas in England. Labour has chosen leftwing trade unionist Chris Webb as its potential parliamentary candidate for the seat, believing they stand a good chance of winning.

Earlier this year, Labour comfortably won the West Lancashire byelection and successfully reclaimed the Wakefield seat, which was previously a key stronghold, in a significant byelection victory last year.

With two byelection defeats in October, Sunak faced warnings from senior Conservative MPs that the party was on the brink of conceding. Benton, whose whip was suspended starting in April, has been serving as an independent MP. Calls for his resignation arose after the Times revealed the story of the fictitious investment fund seeking an “expert adviser” during a major review of gambling legislation. The report claimed that gaining insight from policymakers was a crucial part of their investment strategy. While other MPs declined, Benton was alleged to have been willing to meet with the fake company.

In the Times’ account of the conversation, Benton was asked what he could provide to the fake company instead of a public relations or lobbying firm. He responded, “There’s probably 10 different PR firms I know who are trying to get meetings with the minister… The beauty of politicians, if you like, are we vote in the House of Commons two or three times a day, and we’ll be voting later. You will literally stand at the beginning at the entrance to the voting lobby. And if you wait there for five minutes, the minister has to pass you. And then you’ve got 10 minutes while you walk around to the next vote to have his ear.”

Labour leader Keir Starmer commented on the scandal, criticizing the Prime Minister for his lack of control over his own MPs. Starmer argued that Benton’s flagrant disregard for expected rules is indicative of this issue. Currently, there are 18 independent MPs in Parliament, all of whom have been suspended from their respective parties. They outnumber the Liberal Democrats in Westminster.

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