Malcolm Rifkind. Photo: Getty
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Malcolm Rifkind to stand down as an MP at the election after lobbying controversy

The ex-foreign secretary has also resigned as chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind has announced that he will be stepping down as an MP at the general election. He is also resigning from his position as chair of Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, although he will remain a member until Parliament is dissolved for the election.

The move comes after Channel 4’s Dispatches filmed the former foreign secretary in conversation with a bogus Chinese company. He stated that because of his status he could offer  “useful access” to every British ambassador in the world.

Rifkind’s defence is that he believed the bogus firm was seeking his help as a former foreign secretary, rather than in his current capacity as an MP, saying: “I have never undertaken, nor would I undertake, any lobbying as an MP on behalf of any private organisation from which I was receiving remuneration.”

Both Rifkind and the former Labour foreign secretary Jack Straw, who was also featured in the programme, have had their party whips withdrawn while the matter is investigated. But as select committee chairs are now elected, rather than appointed, Rifkind remained in his ISC post until voluntarily resigning it.

In a statement, Rifkind said:

None of the current controversy with which I am associated is relevant to my work as chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.

However, I have today informed my colleagues that while I remain a member of the Committee, I will step down from the Chairmanship.

The Committee is due to be dissolved in little over a month with the prorogation of Parliament for the forthcoming General Election. The main substantive work which needs to be completed will be the publication of our Privacy and Security Report during March.

I do not want the work of the Committee and the publication of the Report to be, in any way, distracted or affected by controversy due to my personal position. I have concluded, therefore, that it is better that this important work should be presided over by a new chairman.

On his resignation as an MP, he said:

I have received tremendous support from my constituency association and from many constituents in Kensington over the last two days.

However, I have been pondering whether it is fair to my colleagues and friends in Kensington to remain the prospective Conservative candidate for the forthcoming general election.

I warmly welcome the committee that has been established by the Party to examine the controversy with which I have been associated and to report by the end of March on its conclusions. It will be an excellent opportunity for an objective assessment of the allegations that have been made and I will be happy to cooperate closely with the committee.

However, it is unlikely that it will be able to finish its deliberations until well into March and there, obviously, can be no certainty as to its conclusions.

I am conscious, therefore, that Kensington Conservatives are faced with serious uncertainty until the end of March as to whether I will be able to be their candidate. If I could not they would have little time to choose a new candidate.

I am also aware that even if the Committee reach a favourable conclusion as to these allegations the controversy will remain during what is certain to be a heated general election and, indeed, for many months thereafter until the parliamentary commissioner for standards has completed the necessary enquiry.I had intended to seek one further term as MP for Kensington, before retiring from the House of Commons.

I have concluded that to end the uncertainty it would be preferable, instead, to step down at the end of this parliament.

This is entirely my personal decision. I have had no such requests from my constituency association but I believe that it is the right and proper action to take.

As regards the allegations of Channel 4 and the Daily Telegraph I find them contemptible and will not comment further at this time.

Although I will retire from parliament I shall continue my public and political life and am much looking forward to doing so over the years to come.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman. She writes a weekly podcast column.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.