By 19 May, 200 mainstream Labour Party figures had signed a letter to the National Executive urging it to “support the immediate removal of the whip from individual MPs who have brought the party into disrepute over this issue and allow CLPs [constituency Labour party] to trigger reselection ballots against them”.
The National Executive that day decided to set up “a panel of NEC members... to interview any Labour MPs where there appears to be evidence against them. The panel will have the power to recommend to the NEC that MPs are not allowed to stand as Labour candidates at the next General Election”.
The Executive’s procedure is limited to MPs who have broken the rules on expenses, whereas the activists insisted that the Labour Party should move against MPs guilty of playing the system within the rules to pursue “excessive and abusive claims — regardless of whether they were eventually signed off”.
“Many of the claims are for things that, in all conscience, 99% of Labour party members outside of parliament would never be able to bring themselves to claim, even if a ‘system’ allowed them to”.
The Executive’s move is designed to “give” enough to the protesters to placate them, and at the same time to limit any upheaval to a few MPs (who presumably may find themselves out of contention anyway because of police investigations, irrespective of what the Labour Party does).
Although the letter of protest indicates more stirring in the Labour Party than we have been used to for many years, it would be foolish to deny that the Executive’s move may well succeed.
The dog that, for the most part, hasn’t barked is the unions. As organisations representing workers, shouldn’t the affiliated unions be adding their voices to those in the Labour Party demanding a clean-up?
Paul Kenny of the GMB has said: “Members of Parliament should know where the line is, and just because they can claim for something doesn’t mean that they should have claimed it. Those who have failed to exercise this moral judgement have no place in Parliament representing the Labour Party.
“MPs guilty of this have brought Parliament and the Labour Party into disrepute. GMB members want the NEC to outline the process that will be used to de-select these MPs as candidates for the Labour Party for the next General Election”.
There is no mystery, however, about many other union leaders not speaking out. Some of them have had their own expenses scandals. Unite joint general secretary Derek Simpson was recently exposed as enjoying £89,035 in benefits on top of his £105,217 salary. Other union leaders get pay and benefits on a similar level to top managers rather than to the workers they represent, as a report in the Times revealed.
But for rank and file activists this could be a good time to move for workers’ representation on a workers’ wage in both unions and Parliament.