The NEC is proving key

On this “ever-intriguing” (thank you, Sam Coates) blog I recently wrote that Labour’s national executive committee was in a pivotal position to make or break Brown’s credibility over MPs’ expenses, after the setting up an endorsements panel or ‘star chamber’ to hear MPs’ cases. And so it’s proved. One particular case could be a can of worms for the Prime Minister.

Norwich North MP Ian Gibson announced his resignation at the weekend, after the NEC panel barred him from standing for re-election (in turn after he’d said he wouldn’t stand).  Gibson was reported by his local paper (link above) as saying he agreed with his constituency chairman’s view that his barring was a “fait accompli” by the panel – despite the fact that, unlike two of his colleagues, he actually appeared before it. His reaction was “devastation”, which is presumably why he’s decided to precipitate a by-election.

Did he deserve it? Gibson spent around £80,000 on a second home in which his daughter and her boyfriend lived rent-free; then he sold it to them at below market price (not making a profit). It’s not clear that this breaches the spirit or letter of the rules.

By contrast Hazel Blears engaged in flipping of homes (living in three in one year), avoided paying capital gains tax on her second home and spent quite a lot on hotel bills. Again, no obvious breach of the rules. So why hasn’t she been dragged before the panel? Cynics might point to her voting record and say she was more loyal than Gibson – and more dangerous if provoked.

Appearances before the NEC panel are decided by chief whip Nick Brown and general secretary Ray Collins. More loyal Brown supporters you could not wish for.  Already there’ve been mutterings about the NEC-based procedure from, er, the NEC. Peter Kenyon wrote last month:

“As a member of Labour’s NEC, I have received a lot of angry emails and comments on my blogs about apparent anomalies in the treatment of different ministers, as well as between ministers and backbenchers. Some of this upset can be accounted for by shock about what has been going on in Westminster. Some can’t, perceptions of scapegoating can’t be easily brushed aside.

I would be very interested to hear from anyone who thinks they know of strong evidence of an anomaly, which I could add to a case I have already referred to the powers that be. Once reviewed and explained we need to be open about the reasons why apparently similar cases are being dealt with differently. Otherwise, there is no way in which party members’ confidence in the NEC and the Party Leader/PM is going to be restored, let alone that of the electorate in Labour’s competence to govern.”

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