Expenses chief quits . . .

. . . but will Alan Johnson pull a “David Davis” and quit too?

The Sunday papers have two interesting political "resignation" stories this morning.

The Mail on Sunday says that a senior official at the new Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) -- the operations director, Nigel Gooding -- has quit his post "for the sake of my health and sanity" after a series of rows with MPs over the new, stricter expenses rules.

Has the expenses scandal become the domestic equivalent of the Iraq war, the story that never goes away? This new parliament has already had the David Laws resignation, and now this. Depressing. I guess we'll have to get used to another round of hand-wringing, head-shaking and cries of: "They still don't get it!" For the sake of our collective "health and sanity", I hope not.

Then there's Alan Johnson -- one of the popular, plain-speaking and pluralist Labour MPs I'd hoped would run for the party leadership. Johnson is backing David Miliband but the Sunday Telegraph claims that the former home secretary is considering standing down from his Westminster seat and fighting a by-election on the issue of proportional representation.

Says Patrick Hennessy:

The shadow home secretary's dramatic gesture would mirror the controversial stand taken by a Tory occupant of the post, David Davis, in 2008.

Mr Davis quit the shadow cabinet and announced he would fight a by-election in his parliamentary seat of Haltemprice and Howden on a civil liberties platform.

Mr Johnson, who was the favoured candidate of many Labour MPs to replace Gordon Brown as prime minister, has always been a passionate advocate of electoral reform.

If he fought, and won, a by-election on the issue in his seat of Hull West and Hessle -- next door to Mr Davis's seat -- it would put him in prime position to play a leading role in a referendum campaign to change the way all MPs are elected.

Under coalition plans, a referendum on replacing the current "first-past-the-post" regime with the Alternative Vote system, which allows voting for more than one candidate, could be held as early as next year.

If Johnson makes this "dramatic gesture" I'd be 100 per cent behind him. AV is a poor replacement for first-past-the-post -- and I can't tell you how depressed I was to listen to the five Labour leadership candidates refuse to go beyond a commitment to AV at both the New Statesman hustings on Wednesday and the Compass hustings yesterday.

I just wish Johnson had threatened to make this move while in government. After all, if Labour had pledged to legislate for a referendum on AV+, rather than AV, it would have made a Con-Lib coalition all but impossible.

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.