The report that my local MP, David Ruffley, threw himself under a train at Victoria on Thursday, comes as particularly unwelcome news. In truth, there had been rumours about his state of mind for some months, and his public appearances were said to be increasingly rare, but I cannot imagine that anyone had expected events to take such a dramatic turn.
So let me put on record my hope that David recovers quickly, and that those who care for him are able to rally around quickly. Issues surrounding depression are still very much taboo in the Westminster village, and it seems likely that he needed more support than he was getting from those around him.
Of course, what this means is that, whether one likes it or not, Bury St Edmunds is on by-election watch. My preferred option is that David Ruffley is given the time and space to recover, is allowed an opportunity to make a decision as to his future in politics that is best for him, and that whatever decision he does take is respected by politicians of all parties and by the local media. I fear that it will not be easy though.
In the meantime, I presume that all four national political parties represented in local politics here in mid-Suffolk will be considering how to react to this development. The need to be ready in the event that a by-election is called means that there will be conjecture and speculation. Given the size of his majority, it will be seen as a genuine opportunity for an ambitious Conservative, especially given the predilection of local Conservative Associations not to select local candidates.
The other parties will see a by-election as an opportunity to test their strength in a post-Coalition environment. Will the Liberal Democrats be able to hold onto the second place they gained in May, or even advance? Will Labour make up ground lost in a seat where they only narrowly lost in 1997? Will the Greens have more luck in a seat where they have both county and district councillors than their rather disappointing performance last month might indicate? All of this is conjecture, and is contingent on David Ruffley and how he fares over the next few weeks.
My hope is that everyone can behave sensibly in the coming weeks, and that any vultures choosing to circle over our constituency will at least behave with discretion. In the past, there have been suggestions of opportunism related to potential by-elections but it is difficult to perform sensible short-term and medium-term planning when events are fast-moving and unpredictable. One can only really hope for the best...