Today’s Labour defeat in Norwich North would never have happened if the ‘star chamber’ – or the endorsements panel of the National Executive Committee as it’s officially known – hadn’t deselected him. As everyone including Gordon Brown acknowledges, the MP was highly popular with a big personal vote. That is now dust.
The Independent’s excellent Andy Grice quotes a Labour MP as saying: “It is one law for ministers and another for backbenchers, who have been made scapegoats. We have now set up a Star Chamber and it is completely arbitrary. The way MPs have been treated is scandalous”. A sentiment I’ve already observed.
It’s fair enough for MPs who are in the firing line to feel this way. But even members of the (three-strong) star chamber themselves have their misgivings. Ann Black, a veteran Labour activist and one of the troika, wrote in a message to activists last month:
“One of the problems is that the panel cannot decide who it wishes to interview. It only investigates MPs referred to it by the chief whip [Nick Brown] and the general secretary [Ray Collins], and then has to decide whether they have crossed lines drawn by the Green Book or by what members and voters would expect. However the criteria for referral are not clear, and this has led to perceptions of unequal treatment at the initial stage, which I share.”
To which a bystander might say, ‘well gee, you’re actually doing the firing, shouldn’t you do something about it?’ It raises the question of whether Brown and Collins are merely referring MPs to the panel or exerting a bit more control over it.
With Sir Thomas Legg’s audit of individual MPs’ expenses in its early stage (MPs with names A-D will get their results soon, apparently), we can expect plenty more MPs to be referred to the star chamber. Labour’s alliance of MPs, activists and trade unionists is going to come under more strain if there are more people like Ian Gibson out there.
P.S. Lefty Labour MP Alan Simpson has joined the complainants this afternoon. His press release says:
“Ian was the victim of a political assassination orchestrated by the party machine in London. He is probably the only MP to have stood down as the result of losing money rather than making it out of the allowance system. The machine wanted a sacrificial victim and who better than to go for one of Gordon’s critics rather than his friends?”