Labour tries to oust Eric Joyce

Eric Joyce: future in Labour may be in doubt
Eric Joyce: future in Labour may be in doubt
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ERIC Joyce’s constituency Labour colleagues will today demand that the troubled politician does the “honourable thing” and stands down as an MP – even if it means triggering a by-election.

Labour politicians in the Falkirk constituency will discuss the controversy engulfing the MP at a meeting of the constituency party. Joyce has already been suspended from the party following an alleged incident in the House of Commons bar last week that resulted in the MP being charged with three counts of assault.

Yesterday Labour sources acknowledged that there were “very serious questions” about the 51-year-old former Army officer’s “mental state”.

The mounting anger and concern over the assault allegations that resulted in Joyce being detained in a police cell for almost 24 hours will dominate today’s meeting of the local party.

Yesterday Jim Blackwood, a Labour member of Falkirk Council, said: “As far as I am concerned he is no longer a Labour MP and I am happy to stand up and say that we should have a by-election.

“He has been an embarrassment to our party for many years and I am not prepared to defend Eric Joyce. He claims to have been a major in the Army and I thought these people had some degree of honour and the honourable thing for him to do would be to stand down and let us get a Labour MP we can be proud of.”

Blackwood added: “I am not frightened of a by-election.”

But when it comes to forcing Joyce to resign from his seat, Labour’s hands are tied as there is no official mechanism available to the party to compel him to stand down as an MP.

MPs are obliged to quit if they are sentenced to a year or more in prison. Unless this happens, it is up to the individual to stand down. Even if the party whip is removed, politicians are entitled to remain in parliament, because they are elected by the people.

Yesterday Labour sources admitted that it was “frustrating” that more could not be done to ensure Joyce’s exit.

However it has been suggested that some in Labour high command would not relish fighting a by-election against a buoyant SNP.

One Labour source said: “There is no button that we can press that can remove him from parliament. But it would be inconceivable that he would be reselected by his local party members in Falkirk. We can urge him to resign, but political parties do not have the power to remove elected politicians, which is frustrating. But in any case we have to wait for the outcome of the court case.”

Even if Joyce chooses to remain as an MP, his political career will almost certainly come to an end, even if he remains in his seat long enough for a by-election to be avoided. Constituency boundary changes to be unveiled next year will ensure that he is not reselected to stand for Labour.

Before last Wednesday’s alleged incident, Joyce had already courted controversy as the MP with the highest expenses claims. He was the first to claim more than £1 million cumulatively. Joyce will appear at West London Magistrates’ Court on 7 March. His arrest followed reports of an incident in which Conservative MP Stuart Andrew was allegedly punched and head-butted.

A Scottish Labour spokesman said: “As soon as these serious allegations were made, Major Joyce was immediately suspended from the Labour Party. Now that he has been charged with a criminal offence, he remains suspended but it is not possible to consider any other action pending the court case.”

Joyce, who is thought to be in London, was unavailable for comment.