Tuesday, 13 March 2012
If It's Time to Leave the Party, It's Time to Leave the House
The Scottish Labour MP Eric Joyce yesterday resigned from the Labour Party after pleading guilty to assaulting four people in a House of Commons bar last month. Speaking in the House, Mr Joyce apologised unreservedly for his conduct which he said; "fell egregiously below what is required for a member of this House, or indeed anyone anywhere."
Mr Joyce has also, however, made it clear that he intends to stay on as the MP for Falkirk until the end of this parliamentary session in 2015. Interviewed on STV's "Scotland Tonight" programme last night he stated; "I was elected for a full term and that's exactly what I'll serve." He went on; "It's not the easiest thing in the wake of what I personally did two weeks ago... but the simple fact is that I have an obligation to serve out the full term and I will."
So, if I've got this straight, Mr Joyce has been judged unfit to represent his party, but is still fit to represent his constituents. Am I missing something, or is that not utterly disrespectful to the people of Falkirk?
This is where seasoned political types shrug their shoulders and say;"Oh well, it's in the grand tradition of making one last sacrifice for the party by not triggering a by-election which you might lose."
As if that makes it okay. Well it doesn't. "It was ever thus," might be a statement of fact, but it doesn't constitute a compelling argument in favour of the status quo.
Also on Scotland Tonight, the political columnist Ian MacWhirter stated that Labour sources had reportedly commented "Better a nutter than a Nat." If that is an accurate summation of the Labour party's attitude to this issue, then the contempt it shows for voters is shocking.
I would be very happy to give due recognition to the official Labour party view on Mr Joyce's decision not to stand down as an MP, but I have been unable to find it. Prior to Mr Joyce's conviction, Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont stated that she thought he was unfit to stand for the Labour Party. Also prior to his conviction, the local Falkirk Labour Party said that if the allegations against him were proven they expected him to "do the right thing." But, to my knowledge, a statement from the Labour Party calling on Eric Joyce to resign as an MP has been conspicuous by its absence.
Their silence is in marked contrast to their swift reaction in suspending Mr Joyce on his arrest and, indeed, the readiness of Labour figures to comment in advance of the trial. (This piece by Tom Gordon of The Herald is pretty jaw dropping in the extent to which Mr Joyce's Labour colleagues were willing to go on record about his weaknesses.)
The whole affair is depressing and infuriating on many levels. Despite the seriousness of the offences, I have sympathy for Mr Joyce on a personal level. I also have huge sympathy for his family who must have been through hell in recent weeks.
But I am horrified that he and his former party, seem to think it is acceptable to put narrow party interest before principle. How can it be that you are unworthy of membership of the Labour Party, but you continue to be worthy of the trust and support of the community which elected you? Why should the people of Falkirk be expected to make do with a politician whose own party regards him as damaged goods? If this doesn't reflect the Labour Party view, why don't they call on him to resign?
What is it going to take for our politicians to realise that they cannot keep treating the electoral system like their own private property? I understand that it may be good for the Labour party to avoid a by-election in the near future. But frankly I'm not interested in what's good for the Labour party. I'm interested in what's right. I imagine that goes for many allegedly sought after floating voters, of which I am one.
We have come to a very dangerous point when our political leaders seem to be serially unable to grasp the extent of the electorate's disenchantment with politics. Despite my whining and moaning in this post, I spend most of my time trying to enthuse people about democracy and defending politicians from the familiar charge that they're all in it for themsleves, or they're all as bad as each other. And then they go and do something like this and frankly I feel like a prize bloody chump.
Mr Joyce wound up last night's interview by saying, "It's easy to sound terribly over idealistic about it, but I am gripped by a sense of public service and I will continue to serve through to 2015." Talk about devaluing the currency. Mr Joyce may be sincere in his view but I doubt he'd find very many supporters on the streets of Falkirk.