Byelection likely after Labour suspends MacShane over false invoices

Labour acts after Commons standards and privileges committee calls for MacShane to be suspended from Commons for 12 months.

It didn't take Labour long to act after the Commons standards and privileges committee recommended that Denis MacShane be suspended as an MP for 12 months for submitting 19 false expenses invoices totalling £12,900. The party has immediately suspended the former Europe minister and has signalled that his "career as a Labour MP" is over. A party spokesman said:

These are very serious findings concerning Denis MacShane and we accept his statement this morning that his career as a Labour MP is effectively over. In the light of the report’s recommendations to the House, the Labour party has suspended Denis MacShane with immediate effect, pending a full NEC enquiry. We will be talking to Denis MacShane about his future and the best course of action for him and for his constituency.

MacShane previously had the Labour whip withdrawn after a police investigation into his claims was launched, but had it reinstated when Scotland Yard announced in July that it would be taking no further action.

The MP has so far refused to say whether he will step down, stating that he is "consulting family and friends" as he reflects on his future. Here's the statement published on his website:

I am shocked and saddened that the BNP has won its 3 year campaign to destroy my political career as a Labour MP despite a full police investigation which decided not to proceed after investigations and interviews. I am glad the Committee notes that there is no question of personal gain.

Clearly I deeply regret that the way I chose to be reimbursed for costs related to my work in Europe and in combating anti-semitism, including being the Prime Minister’s personal envoy, has been judged so harshly.

I remain committed to work for progressive values, for Britain playing a full part in Europe, and for combating anti-semitism even though I can no longer undertake this work as a Labour MP. I am consulting family and friends as I consider my position and study the full implications of the report. I am obviously desperately sorry for any embarrassment I have caused my beloved Labour Party and its leader Ed Miliband whom I greatly admire.

MacShane will surely conclude that he has to resign, rather than leave Rotherham without representation in parliament for a year. Equally, the verdict of the committee, which said this was "the gravest case which has come to us for adjudication, rather than being dealt with under the criminal law", is so damning that he can no longer reasonably remain an MP. It said:

We accept that Mr MacShane is widely acknowledged for his interest in European affairs, and the funds he claimed could be said to have been used in supporting that interest. Those activities may have contributed to his Parliamentary work, albeit indirectly. He has expressed his regret, and repaid the money wrongly claimed. But this does not excuse his behaviour in knowingly submitting nineteen false invoices over a period of four financial years which were plainly intended to deceive the Parliamentary expenses authorities. This is so far from what would be acceptable in any walk of life that we recommend that Mr MacShane be suspended from the service of the House for twelve months. This would mean he lost his salary and pension contributions for this period.

MacShane would be wise to announce his resignation today, rather than cling onto an office he can no longer credibly hold.

UPDATE 2/11/2012 16.35

MacShane has announced that he will be resigning as an MP. The BBC's James Vincent reports on Twitter that MacShane made the following statement:

"I hope by resigning I can serve by showing that MPs must take responsibility for their mistakes"

Denis MacShane, pictured whilst Europe minister in 2005. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Time to start fixing the broken safety net that no longer catches struggling families

We are failing to ensure we look after the children of families both in and out of work.

Families on low incomes are once again bearing the brunt of a tough economic environment. Over the past decade, rising costs of items such as food, energy and childcare, combined with stagnating wages and cuts in benefits, have repeatedly put a squeeze on family budgets.

Between 2014 and 2016, some of these pressures eased, as inflation sank to zero and pay started to grow again. But now that inflation has returned, for the first time in postwar history the increasing cost of a child is being combined with a freeze in all financial support for children. The failure to uprate either benefits, tax credits or the wage levels at which tax credits are withdrawn means that inflation is bound to erode modest family incomes both in and out of work.

The gradual fall in living standards that this produces will be worsened by other benefit cuts that come in over the next few years, for different families at different times. For a start, the phasing out of the “family element” of Child Tax Credit (and its equivalent in Universal Credit) will eventually result in all low-income families getting more than £500 a year less from the state than at present.

Since this only applies to families whose oldest child was born in April 2017 or later, it hits families with the youngest children first, with the effect spreading gradually through the population. The restriction of tax credit entitlements to a maximum of two children is also being phased in, affecting only third children born from this year on, but will clobber families much more severely, with a loss of nearly £2,800 a year per child.

Some existing larger families who escape this cut have nevertheless had their income severely reduced this year (by anything up to £6,000) by the reduction in the benefit cap.

My latest report on the cost of a child, for Child Poverty Action Group, takes stock of these trends and the effects they will have on parents’ ability to provide for their families effectively. For some families in work, improved support for childcare and a higher minimum wage partially offsets the losses incurred as a result of the above cuts. But for those relying on benefits as a “safety net” when they are not working, the level of this net is being progressively lowered over time. On present policies, the support that it provides will sink below half of what families need as a minimum sometime early in the 2020s – having in contrast provided about two thirds of their requirements at the start of the present decade.

There comes a point when a “safety net” stops being worthy of its name because it is no longer enough to provide even the bare essentials of modern life. The evidence shows that when income sinks this low, most families can only escape severe material hardship either by going into debt or by getting help from extended family members.

We are about to enter a new parliamentary season, led by a government that survived by the skin of its teeth after a disgruntled electorate failed to give it the clear majority that it sought. Raising family living standards has been at the heart of the political promise to improve people’s lives. The benefits freeze alone seems to contradict this promise by creating a downward escalator for the half of families relying on some kind of means-tested benefit or tax credit, in combination with child benefit.

For those  who are “just about managing”, and particularly for others who are not managing at all, the clearest signal that Philip Hammond could give in his Autumn Budget that he is starting  to reverse the direction of that escalator would be to restore a system of benefit upratings. This would at least allow incomes to keep up with living costs, stopping things from getting systematically worse, and giving a stable foundation on which measures to improve living standards could build.

Professor Donald Hirsch is director of the Centre for Research in Social Policy at Loughborough University