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MacShane previously had the Labour whip withdrawn after a police investigation into his claims was launched, but had it reinstated when Scotland Yard announced in July that it would be taking no further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

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.