Hartlepool by-election 2021: how does a by-election work, why is this one significant - and when is the next?

Thousands of people will head to polling stations next month to take part in the Hartlepool by-election

Voters in Hartlepool will cast their votes in the first by-election of this parliament, and the first since the pandemic, on 6 May.

The contest will take place alongside the local elections in England and Wales, Scotland’s parliamentary elections and a number of mayoral and Police and Crime Commissioner races - meaning Hartlepool residents will have four votes to cast on the day.

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The by-election will take place following the resignation of Labour’s Mike Hill MP earlier this year.

Hartlepool by-election 2021: how does a by-election work, why is this one significant - and when is the next? (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

What is a by-election?

Members of parliament are usually all elected together in a general election, but if an MP resigns or has to step down then a by-election will be triggered.

There are a number of reasons that a by-election can be triggered, they include:

An MP passing away An MP choosing to resign the seat An MP being declared bankrupt An MP being convicted of a serious crime

A by-election isn’t triggered if an MP loses the party whip, resigns from their party or decides to switch parties.

Once a by-election has been triggered, parties will select candidates and people unaffiliated with an official party can also register to stand as independent candidates, as in a general election.

Occasionally, if the by-election is triggered in particularly tragic circumstances, opposition parties will decline to stand candidates, as was the case when Jo Cox MP was killed in 2016.

How to vote in a by-election

The process of voting in a by-election is the same as in a general election, with registered voters able to fill in a ballot paper in person at polling stations, or via post.

By-elections often attract significant media attention, and can sometimes be interpreted as a kind of referendum on the incumbent government, particularly if they take place in a swing seat.

This heightened media attention means they often attract more small-party, independent and novelty candidates than a general election.

While the most candidates to stand in a general election was 15, in Tony Blair’s Sedgefield constituency in 2005, the 2008 Howden and Haltemprice by-election attracted 26 candidates, including from the Church of the Militant Elvis party and the Make Politician’s History party.

When is the next by-election?

The Hartlepool by-election will take place on 6 May, alongside the local elections, following the resignation of Labour’s Mike Hill due to allegations of sexual harassment.

The SNP’s Neil Gray resigned his UK parliamentary seat to stand in the Scottish parliamentary elections, for the same constituency of Airdrie and Shotts. The resulting by-election will take place on 13 May.

Conservative MP Dame Cherly Gillan Chesham died 4 April, prompting heartfelt tributes to the former minister from across the political spectrum. Her death also triggered a by-election in her constituency, the date of which is yet to be confirmed - though it will likely be in June 2021.

If Tracy Brabin MP wins the West Yorkshire mayoral race on 6 May, she will be forced to step down and trigger a by-election in Batley and Spen, due to rules which prevent mayors with Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) powers, or PCCs from serving as MPs.