The disciplinary case of ex-Labour MP Chris Williamson has been referred to a fresh panel of national executive committee (NEC) members, after the full disputes panel today decided to reject the decision to lift his suspension.
Two weeks ago, a three-member panel voted to issue the Derby MP with a formal warning rather than refer the case upwards to Labour’s national constitutional committee (NCC) – despite party staff recommending further action. Keith Vaz MP and Huda Elmi voted to lift the suspension, while George Howarth MP disagreed but was outnumbered.
The original ruling was rejected at a meeting of the full disputes panel today, after hundreds of parliamentarians and staffers called for tougher measures to be taken against Williamson. Vaz himself said the decision “cannot stand” and “should be referred to the disputes committee for reconsideration”.
LabourList understands that the disputes panel as a whole does not currently have the power to overturn a decision made by a specialist panel – it is only allowed to reject a decision, then refer the case back to a different three- or five-member panel.
Last month, there was speculation that Org Sub – the NEC committee responsible for party rules that also met today – could push through a rule change. This would have allowed the full NEC to offer a fresh ruling and refer the case to the NCC itself. But the NEC ultimately chose to follow the normal rules as usual.
If the new panel refers the case to the NCC, Labour’s highest disciplinary body, the party will act as a prosecutor against Chris Williamson. The NCC then makes the final decision. The dynamic is sometimes explained by comparing Labour to the CPS and the NCC to a court.
The NCC, which handles the most serious disciplinary cases, is a body of 25 members. It more than doubled in size after Labour conference last year, which then saw six members on the Labour left slate (backed by Momentum and the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy) elected to the CLP section.
Further NCC elections are to be held over the summer, with three places up. The official left candidates are Stephen Marks (incumbent), Gary Heather (incumbent) and Jabran Hussain. Soft left group Open Labour has endorsed Emma Burnell and Steve Lapsley. The candidates backed by Corbynsceptic groups Labour First and Progress are Gillian Troughton, Joanne Harding and Kirat Raj Singh.