Just when you thought the last 24 hours’ news couldn’t get more bizarre…

Labour’s MP for Norwich North Ian Gibson has quit the House of Commons with immediate effect, triggering a by-election. The Norwich Evening News has his full statement, in which he makes clear his anger at Labour’s handling of disciplinary action following the Daily Telegraph’s allegations over his expenses claims:

It has been my great honour to have served the people of Norwich North as their MP since 1997. … I wish to publicly thank the hundreds of people who sent me messages of support. The decision of the NEC leaves me today bowed but not broken. However, I believe that my position as an MP between now and the next election is untenable. And after discussions with my family, colleagues, party members and my admirable staff, I have decided to tender my resignation as an MP with immediate effect and I expect it to be accepted.”

Here’s the 2005 general election result for Norwich North:

Labour, Ian Gibson – 21,097 (44.9%)
Conservative, James Tumbridge – 15,638 (33.2%)
Liberal Democrat, Robin Whitmore – 7,616 (16.2)
Green, Adrian Holmes – 1,252 (2.7%)
UK Independence, John Youles – 1,122 (2.4%)
Majority: 5,459 (11.6%)
Turnout: 47,033 (61.1%)

So a swing of 6% from Labour to Tory will turn this seat blue, and trigger the next bout of Gordon-Must-Go leadership speculation (if he’s still leader by the time of the by-election, that is).

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39 Comments

  • Terry Gilbert 5th Jun '09 - 6:02pm

    It is a good opportunity for an independent – and Bell has good links to Archant, which owns the local paper. But if not, it will be interesting to see whether a Tory win in the City would affect the key Lib Dem target in Norwich South, next door – which shares the same paper.

    Will Labour delay the by-election? (I think the defending party can wait up to six months – does anyone know the rules for certain?) They can hardly be keen to have it now! Or will they want the embarrassment over quickly?

  • Craig Murray will be standing as an anti-sleaze Independent. He is a good Liberal, with a history in the party and a fine record on Liberal issues. The LDs as such are never going to win this by-election at this time. But by standing aside for Craig Murray we could get into the Commons someone who will be a good MP for Norwich North, can hold the seat at a General Election, and will be voting on the same side as LDs. virtually all the time. The Tories would be embarrassed to stand against him.

  • I have to disagree with Richard. We should not stand aside for Craig Murray no matter how liberal his views may be. Voters in all by-elections should always be given the opportunity to vote for the official Liberal Democrat candidate. Let’s get up to Norwich and show that we are the ones to reform our politics.

  • I would agree with RMC if there was a prospect of a good result. However, the tories have gotten better at by-elections and todays results show the public mood. It looks set to be another Crewe & Nantwich to me. Backing an independent who may well agree to take our whip on a range of procedural matters might be better option than a poor third place.

    But it is of course up to the local & national parties. Hopefully they will take advice from the national party, and everyone will keep in mind the target seat next door.

  • “It looks set to be another Crewe & Nantwich to me.”

    If that implies that C&N was a poor result then (given the circumstances) that is the wrong implication

  • That’s not so bizarre.

    7 People in the cabinet who can’t be questioned in the Commons is though

  • Carl Mayhew 5th Jun '09 - 8:56pm

    Why would we not fight this again? Lets not forget part of this seat comes under the new Broadland seat which is one of our targets.

  • Hywel: It implies that another C&N is less useful to us than a decent result for a Lib Dem backed independent. Given the circumstances, if you will.

    It may be a high % for a campaign to achieve in those circumstances- I know it probably was because I went. But a reduced third place is not a “good” result.

    Mayhew: Sure, but if we are at risk of a poor third it won’t help us there.

  • Carl Mayhew 5th Jun '09 - 9:21pm

    I don’t think delivery or door knocking will do any harm compared to not standing at all.

    Plus I also should point out part of the seat is actually in the South seat too.

    That is also a target seat. Do you want to tell them, lets not bother because we might lose???

  • No, you are correct, in that case we will certainly stand and I agree we must. On consideration I anyhow recalled that Craig Murray can be somewhat… unreliable in PR terms in any case.

    I do have more respect for him that many of the other independents, as he has a long standing interest in politics as opposed to them. But nonetheless the only circumstance to back independents is when carefully planned like with Bell or in Kiddiminster, even aside from Bells possible suitability or lack thereof. I was wrong to consider just the imaginary electoral maths, there has to be a proper process and not just snap decisions.

  • Well thats true to an extent. However if you wanted to stand as a Lib Dem candidate in a GE I am confident you would have been able to. You have chosen not to do so.

    You don’t get to make unilateral demands of a whole party, especially one with democratic processes.

  • The idea that we need an ‘official’ candidate to campaign is nonsense.

    I’d be very happy for Craig Murray to stand (with our tacit support) – I’m sure we can organise ourselves in the relevant areas, make the important point about the necessity of cleaning up politics and back Craig’s entirely luadable campaigns against the UK’s complicity in torture – more of which is likely to come out in the next few weeks…

  • Dan: It is rather easier to campaign when we are standing our own candidate. Although a more succesful campaign with less emphasis on us is better than one where we lose…

    I think I will stop commenting on the specifics of the issue as I clearly cannot make my mind up!

    Neale: In a general election there may be a case if there is a good independent in a seat we would not otherwise be targetting.

    The issue is that (at least somewhat unlike Craig) that most of the independents are likely to play the anti-politics card very heavily. Some are unlikely to welcome our endorsment, and I would not be suprised if some others got us off the ballot then badmouthed away. It could also hurt if we were helping out many independents and one or more stood where we want to win. Its also pointless if we don’t have some sort of agreement that will see any who are elected substantially advance Lib Dem aims, which is rather difficult to arrange with unaccountable indies. Its something we have to be careful very about.

  • “Dan: It is rather easier to campaign when we are standing our own candidate.”

    What candidate did Joanna Lumley have?

    The problem with the party’s approach to community politics is that we forgot that you can campaign for an idea as well as a polling day.

    However, we are a political party. Standing candidates is what we do

  • I saw Craig Murray at a fringe thing a few years ago at conference. He is fantastic. We should totally stand aside for him!

  • (1) Isn’t it up to the local members to decide if they wish to have a candidate?

    (2) Historically, Lib Dems have stood aside in favour of independents only in exceptional circumstances. In Tatton, it was clear that only an independent given a free run could defeat Neil Hamilton. In Kidderminster, we backed an independent campaigning on a Kidderminster-specific issue who stood a vastly better chance of defeating the Labour incumbent than a Lib Dem. And we stood aside for John Cartwright and Rosie Barnes in the vain hope that they might come over if reelected. But we didn’t stand aside for Martin Bell in Brentwood and Ongar, did we, when the man in the white suit was inveigled into interfering in an internal Tory party dispute – even though he might have won had we done so?

    (3) What is there about Craig Murray that is specific to Norwich, and what has he said or done that puts him in a substantially better position to win a byelection there than a Liberal Democrat? Sadly, a lot of people don’t give a stuff about foreigners being tortured. The torture isn’t taking place in Norwich, is it? And Norwich people are not being tortured, as far as I know.

    (4) Does Craig Murray actually want to be an MP? Or is he proposing to use the byelection merely to air a single issue? Is he interested in issues other than torture? Such as the economy, education, health service, the environment, etc? Is he prepared to hold surgeries and discuss mundane problems with constituents? How could he hope to do any of this without a political infrastructure behind him? when David Icke stood against David Davis in Hull, he made it clear that he didn’t wish to be an MP and didn’t want people to vote for him.

  • Sesenco: Agreed on points 1 and 2. On 4, he has not just come out of the woodwork and does have an understanding as politics, so I think the answer is yes- but that he probably would not be as good as a Liberal Democrat.

    On 3, its not really to do with the issue he became known for. Its the possibility that the media would give sympathetic coverage and he will capture some of the anti-politics mood that means he may get a vote. Indeed, this will make it interesting to see how other independents may do in 2010, albeit in the very different enviroment of the GE.

    Hywel: Do you think supporting Craig Murray in a by-election will achieve some other end through non-parliamentary means? I am rather confident it will not so I don’t really see the comparison.

  • “Hywel: Do you think supporting Craig Murray in a by-election will achieve some other end through non-parliamentary means? I am rather confident it will not so I don’t really see the comparison.”

    In short, no.

    If Craig wants to apply to join the party and to be approved & selected then I’d welcome that. On an initial look he has a past commitment to the party, some local roots and the candidacy is open. But it’s up to him whether he wants to go down that route.

    If not we should stand a candidate.

    However campaigning on an issue doesn’t in general require a candidate at all

  • Craig Murray,

    If you are asking the Liberal Democrats to stand aside for you, then don’t be surprised if we ask you searching questions. If that is being patronising, then good morning and welcome to politics.

    Sesenco

  • Craig,

    I watched your evidence to the committee, and I’m not sure it makes the point you’re making.

    Evan Harris seems to me to ask you some quite important questions in a fairly dispassionate way, but it seems to me as very odd (unless there is more to it than is broadcast) that you take that to mean he is hostile to your position. If a robust case is to be put against the Government, it is surely all the more important that MPs ‘cross-examine’ you carefully?

    You are probably right that the committee for various reasons will not achieve very much. But I don’t see they are wrong to ask tough questions to all witnesses rather than pouring praise on those who they are (for reasons of party stance or ideology) predisposed to sympathise with.

    All of this (and parts of the exchange above) gives an unfortunate impression that you are a bit precious. I think that’s a pity since what you did was -from what I can tell – a courageous thing to do, and I thought you gave a good account of yourself to the committee.

  • I think you could go on arguing for days about what to do about Craig Murray. My twopennyworth is that we have a big interest in the surrounding seats and it would make us look weak to the public if we didn’t campaign as hard as we can. It’s another chance to get some exposure for Lib Dem policies and we should seize it.

  • David Allen 6th Jun '09 - 3:31pm

    This byelection is probably going to be between the Tories and an independent anti-sleaze candidate. It would be good to see the Tories fight it and lose it.

    Gibson has defined the crucial issue in this contest. None of the parties has seriously tried to meet the public’s legitimate expectations about clearing up the expenses scandal. Labour and the Tories have simply thrown a few expendable people like Gibson to the wolves, while protecting the powerful guilty. We haven’t even done that much! So we are in no position to make this our issue.

    We could stand, and scrap it out with Labour for a distant third place. We’d look a lot better if we took the opportunity to stand aside, and use support for an anti-sleaze candidate as our excuse for doing so.

    (Oh, and there is a third option, which is to put our own house in order now. Then we would have the moral authority to lead the campaign for reform ourselves. But we seem to have ruled that one out.)

  • Craig Murray is an excellent public speaker, thinker, servant of the people and – most vitally – a liberal. I think he would make a fine MP.
    But for me the question is not whether we step aside for him – sorry but we should not – but why the party has not made a point of pursuing someone of his obvious talent, experience and value to the political dialogue to join and stand for elections as a Liberal Democrat.
    There is a lot to be said for long-serving councillors, community figures and party activists running for election, but I sometimes feel that we ignore the vast array of people who are obviously in the liberal tradition (sometimes more so than our MPs!) who we could bring in from other fields of experience – but don’t.
    Joanna Lumley has ended up endorsing the Greens this year – I don’t know what made that happen, but what could they possibly represent or offer that we could not? There are at least two liberally-minded Independents standing for the Euros and that’s without those who joined Jury Team. There are known celebrity and media figures who are supportive of the party who we just don’t seem keen to use. Other parties actively seek out new talent – Cameron was much mocked for his A-List but its result will be an injection of young, diverse people with fresh perspectives into politics. The problem is they will all be Tories!
    This is all a roundabout way of saying: Craig – however we’ve disappointed you in the past, tell us what we’re doing wrong, join/rejoin the party, put yourself forward and stand for US for Parliament. You will be a great asset.

  • Chris Marsden 8th Jun '09 - 5:14pm

    Craig Murray would galvanize the election in a way that a party candidate would not, and his anti-corruption and anti-sleaze views are extremely well-known – he IS a best-selling author. Its a shame that the election is out of termtime because you could have had a lot of student support with different timing for him.
    Reading these comments, he and many of the local LibDems seem a bit precious – if he stands and resigns at the next GE (which would demonstrate his independent credentials), what do you have to lose by giving him a clear run? Only a bandwagon for a personality candidate can stop the execrable Tories, a worthy party local can’t. And he is a Norwich boy.
    And my God, it will be fun! Get his wife’s best friend from Britain’s Got Talent to get the voters out!

  • Joseph Reville 9th Jun '09 - 1:01pm

    Chris Marsden;

    You clearly knowlittle of the area. For a start I have yet to see Craig Murray call him self a Norwich man. Norflok yes but there are quite a lot of trobles over that issue which would lose most of the voters from this seat. Secondly you have the seats confused I think. There are vey few students in the north. South is the con with the uni. Also as a resident of the north and haveing spoken to my neighbours I have yet to know anyone who has heard of him. He is hardly Martin Bell.

    But the most idiotic thing you said must be what do we have to lose. Well, campaigning in key target wards, delivering LIB DEM leaflets, door knocking and most important giving people the chance to VOTE for a LIB DEM!

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