Derek Conway is whip-less. His political prospects look bleak. His constituency association is weighing up whether to back him as an independent MP. The question is, do the Tories want to risk a by-election?
Mr Conway’s seat is Old Bexley and Sidcup. It covers an area that was represented by former prime minister Ted Heath for more than half a century. It has one of the lowest proportions of ethnic minorities in London, and the highest level of home ownership. It should be as blue as the ocean. But Mr Conway’s bungling has probably put the seat into play.
If a by-election was called, it would be Nick Clegg’s first test as Liberal Democrat leader. And it would be on reasonably favourable terms. The Lib Dems would be the underdog, with the wind of a genuine scandal in their sails. And of course the Tories can always be relied upon to underperform in a by-election race.
Even the geography is raising hopes in the Lib Dem HQ. Bexley is reasonably close to Bromley, where the Lib Dems lost by just 633 votes in a by-election less than two years ago. The original majority in Bromley was more than 13,000, which far outstrips Mr Conway’s 9,309 vote margin.
Lord Rennard, the Lib Dem by-election guru, can smell blood. "The Tories definitely won’t want a by-election there," he told me. "In these circumstances, they’ll be very fearful of us."