After Ian Gibson, do party members still count?

11th June, 2009 11:34 am

Ian GibsonBy Phil Taylor

The treatment of Labour MP Ian Gibson by our party has been as unforgivable as it was stupid, now causing us a difficult by-election in Norwich North. What is says about the party’s attitude to the rights of members is depressing.

Members in Norwich Labour Party were given no opportunity to put their views on Ian’s ‘offence’, let alone be left to make a decision on his future themselves. Why is it that the party feels that a high council of 3 in London are better placed to end the career of a hard working Labour MP than the hundreds of activists and members in his constituency?

The kangaroo court to which our party subjected this decent man was a travesty of party democracy as well as of the natural justice and fairness to which the Labour Party is supposed to be committed. And why have we seen such double standards in the treatment of MPs? Where are the summons to the ‘star chamber’ for MPs, including Ministers, who have committed far more serious offences? Most members of the public I have spoken to in Norwich couldn’t even understand what it was that Ian was supposed to have done wrong.

Where MPs have really committed offences, their own members are telling them to go – and they are. If we had told Ian to go, he had said he would. But we stood by him, so the party took away our right to back him. Could it be Ian’s willingness to display independence of thought and a dedication to his constituency before climbing the greasy pole that has set him apart for special treatment?

This decision has now prompted Ian to quit as our MP immediately. As members we are all deeply saddened that he has made that decision, but we also understand why has done so. Our anger is not towards him, but the party’s decision to single him out and not let party members decide who we want to carry the Labour banner into the next election.

There are two things the party must now do to ensure it does not make this situation even worse. First, stay out of the selection of our candidate for the by-election. Second, not cause any unnecessary delay in calling the election and deprive people in Norwich North of the lifeline at times of personal crisis that an MP so often becomes, as anyone who has helped at an MP’s advice surgery will know.

Let’s also make this election the first to be fought under the new politics to which we are all saying we are committed. That means candidates speaking their minds, not being run from a tightly controlled party script. And it means properly reaching out to voters turned off, not just by the expenses scandal, but by a feeling that their views don’t count – something the treatment of their departing MP has only reinforced.

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