Labour in by-election dilemma

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The death of Labour MP David Taylor leaves a dilemma for the party's strategists over whether to call a by-election in his Leicestershire North West constituency.

If they do so they risk defeat in a key marginal seat, but the alternative of leaving it unrepresented until the General Election - which could still be five months away - might be unpopular locally and open to Opposition cries of "frit".

In 2005, Mr Taylor had a 4,477 majority which would be overturned on a 4.8% swing to the Tories.

But Press Association analysis of last June's county council voting in the constituency showed a 15% movement with Labour failing to return any councillors in the area and only just pipping the BNP for second place.

Voting was Conservatives 12,874; Labour 6,438; BNP 5,807; Lib Dem 5,549; Independent 695.

Since then, there has been some Labour recovery nationally with five council by-election gains this month, although Tories still lead in opinion polls by between 8% and 17%.

There is an unhappy precedent for holding a by-election close to the general. In 1997 a February contest was called for Wirral South in Tories' last desperate roll of the dice.

They lost heavily in the by-election and were ousted from power just over two months later.

Although there is a convention that by-elections should, if possible, be called within three months of the vacancy occurring, there is no obligation to do so.

Labour left the Glasgow North East seat of former Speaker Michael Martin vacant for more than four months this year over the long Parliamentary break - and then still won easily.

Even if the Opposition were to seek to force a Leicestershire North West contest this could be resisted by Labour's Commons majority.

The constituency has seen the decline of its traditional coalfield base centred on Coalville but Labour had maintained support there and in other towns and villages, including Ibstock and Measham, at the 2005 election. Local Tory powerbases include the historic town of Ashby de la Zouch - scene of a major civil war clash - and Castle Donington.

Parts of it are covered by the National Forest project and it includes East Midlands Airport.

Leicestershire North West May 2005 General Election result: Taylor (Lab) 21,449 (45.5%); Le Page (C) 16,972 (36.0%); Keys (Lib Dem) 5,682 (12.1%); Blunt (Ukip) 1,563 (3.3%); Potter (BNP) 1,474 (3.1%).