Who is Helen Harrison? Peter Bone’s partner standing in Wellingborough by-election

The Conservatives have three challenging by-elections to contest in February, with the Northamptonshire seat of Wellingborough looming large in the public eye.

Up for grabs after the departure of disgraced former MP Peter Bone, the local Conservative Party have selected his partner – Helen Harrison – as his replacement candidate.

Wellingborough’s former MP Peter Bone was suspended from Parliament for six weeks last year, following a watchdog report into his behaviour. The independent panel found he had bullied and indecently exposed himself to a member of staff, allegations which he continues to deny.

Ms Harrison has stood by her partner, telling the BBC that she believes the panel “got it wrong”. The former physiotherapist insists she is “proud” to have Mr Bone on the campaign trail with her, and that voters have not been raising the issue on the doorstep.

Peter Bone and Helen Harrison, 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)
Peter Bone and Helen Harrison, 2019 (AFP via Getty Images)

Following his suspension, voters in Wellingborough backed a petition to recall the MP, with 13.2 per cent of the required 10 per cent of the electorate signing to trigger a byelection. Both Mr Bone and Ms Harrison have maintained that this result doesn’t reflect the view of the majority in the area.

Helen Harrison’s political career

Ms Harrison, a chartered physiotherapist, has been a Conservative campaigner for a number of years. Alongside her partner Peter Bone, she was a director of Grassroots Out, a cross party Brexit campaign funded by millionaire UKIP donor Aaron Banks and backed by Nigel Farage.

Although not selected to be the official lead Leave campaign, which was also funded by Mr Banks, the group came under criticism over allegations its existence allowed the Leave campaign to avoid strict Electoral Commission rules on spending. Responding at the time, Mr Bone said: “Unlike the Remain campaign, we will not try to stitch up this vital vote on Britain’s future.”

In 2018, Mr Bone disclosed that he, then 65, and Ms Harrison, then 45, were in a relationship. Mr Bone said: “My wife and I have been living apart for more than two years, during which time I have formed a relationship with Helen Harrison.”

The office of Conservative candidate Helen Harrison in Wellingborough (PA)
The office of Conservative candidate Helen Harrison in Wellingborough (PA)

Their relationship came under scrutiny as it was revealed that Ms Harrison had been employed by Mr Bone since June 2017 as Senior Parlimentary Assistant. Also in his employment at the time was his wife Jennie Bone – who he had made a habit of referring to in Parliamentary speeches – as his executive secretary. Both roles would be funded by public finances.

What does Helen Harrison stand for?

Ms Harrison is running on a policy platform which echoes the government’s messaging

“I want to help deliver for the people of Wellingborough and Rushden, as we continue to focus on their priorities”, Ms Harrison said upon her selection, “halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting waiting lists and stopping the boats.”

In 2017, Ms Harrison contested the seat of Bolsover against Labour’s Dennis Skinner, losing by over 5,000 votes. Labour did subsequently lose the seat in the 2019 general election to the Conservatives’ Mark Fletcher.

As a local councillor for North Northamptonshire, Ms Harrison was Executive Member for Adults, Health and Wellbeing, standing down from this position upon her selection. She remains a councillor for the ward of Oundle.

Who is running against Helen Harrison in Wellingborough?

There are 11 candidates running in the Wellingborough by-election, with the Conservatives winning 62 percent of the vote in 2019. Labour would need to achieve a 17.9 percent swing in order to secure victory – a smaller margin than their last three by-election wins in Tamworth, Selby & Ainsty and Mid Bedfordshire.

Her Labour opponent is Gen Kitchen, 28, who has a background in charity work. Speaking after her selection, Ms Kitchen said: “I know the people of Wellingborough feel abandoned and neglected by this Tory government, and frankly embarrassed by the actions of their MP.”

Keir Starmer and Gen Kitchen, Wellingborough’s Labour candidate (PA)
Keir Starmer and Gen Kitchen, Wellingborough’s Labour candidate (PA)

Ms Harrison has also addressed reports that Mr Bone had threatened his former party to stand as an independent candidate in the area unless she was selected:

“The truth of the issue is that we were contacted by people within the party and it was suggested that Peter could resign before the recall petition started and it was suggested by those people I would be in the final selection to be the candidate. We turned that option down and Peter allowed the recall petition to go ahead.”