Martin Booth, former President of Norwich CLP, gives an eyewitness account of how the Labour Party debarred Ian Gibson from standing as a Labour candidate.
I have been a member of the Labour Party for 30 years and President of Norwich Labour Party for the last two. On 21st May I returned home from work to find that our Norwich North MPhad been on the local TVnews, apparently embroiled in the MPs’expenses affair. I was shocked: Ian Gibson is one of the most ethical men I have met and I could not believe that he would knowingly abuse his expenses. I found out later that the Telegraphhad warned him he would be in the paper, and he had immediately contacted the local media to answer the charges – not the action of someone who has somthing to hide.
The next morning’s Telegraph claimed that Ian had covered up the fact that his daughter and her partner were living in his flat rent free by blanking out the address of the flat in the expenses that he published in the local paper. They also said that he had sold the flat to her at a low price after the taxpayer had paid the mortgage.
I managed to speak to Ian on the Friday. He sounded really shocked and told me that he had been referred to the NEC panel (the “Star Chamber”). On the Saturday I went to see him. He explained that he had not covered up anything. MPs were told to blank out all addresses by the Fees office because of data protection. He had not charged his daughter rent because the Fees Office had advised him not to. Although he had sold the flat to her for the sum which was on the mortgage, he had only claimed for mortgage interest on the flat. He had put £30,000 of his own money, obtained by re-mortgaging his Norwich home, into the flat when he bought it (which remained for him to pay off). I thought it was obvious that he had broken no rules. He accepted my offer to accompany him to the Star Chamber hearing to show he had local sup-
I called a meeting on 29th May of all branch chairs and secretaries in Norwich North and all councillors to gauge their opinions. This meeting was 100% behind Ian, and I wrote a strong letter to the Star Chamber from Norwich North members.
The letter telling Ian he had been referred said that he was being investigated under Chapter 5 Clause C8(b) of the rules of the Labour Party. This says that if it is proved that you have breached the rules (it does not say which rules), you can have the endorsement of your candidature rescinded. The letter stressed that it was not a disciplinary hearing but just an interview, to which he could bring with him only one silent friend, in accordance with human rights.
On 2nd June we went to Victoria Street and were called into the panel at 10.40am. The panel were Cath Speight, NEC chair; Ann Black, NEC vice-chair; and Ann Lucas, an NEC member. Also present were Roy Kennedy, Director of Finance and Compliance, and a man who was not introduced but whom Ian thought was Ray Collins. Ian then asked that I be allowed to speak for the constituency, but this was not allowed. I was to be a silent friend.
Ian presented his case. From the chair, Cath Speight asked Ian how he squared the fact that his daughter could now sell the flat for a profit with a rule from the Green Book which said that Members should ensure that neither they nor their relatives should gain financially out of their expens- es. We had seen no such rule in the Green Book we had looked at. Ian answered that if he had sold the flat on the open market, he would have made a profit which he could have given to his daughter, and he could not see any difference between that and what he had actually done. After a few questions the interview ended: it had lasted 25 minutes.
Afterwards we tried to look up the rule that Cath Speight had quoted and I finally found it in the March 2009 version of the Green Book. Ian sold the flat to his daugh- ter in May 2008. There is no mention of this rule in any of the Green Books before 2009. The panel had used a rule to condemn Ian which did not exist when he sold his daughter the flat.
It was not until 6.45pm in the evening that Ian was told that his candidature had been rescinded, at the same time as it was released to the press by Victoria Street. I was furious and went onto the local media to denounce the NEC and say that the panel had been a kangaroo court. Ian Gibson is well known to be a very independently minded MPand has voted against the Government many times. I suspected that the whips had used this issue to get rid of him.
The next evening I met Ian and his wife and he decided that he would resign as MP straight away – mainly because of the effect that the whole affair was having on his family.
The next morning I woke early. Angry and unable to get back to sleep, I decided that I had to resign from the Party. I just could not stay after I had seen the way that they had destroyed such a good man as Ian. He has been a wonderful constituency MP. When you went canvassing with him, it seemed he had helped nearly every other person you met. His involvement in outside causes, from beekeepers to ME sufferers, is amazing. That the NEC could destroy him because of the poisonous writing of the Daily Telegraphand use retrospective rules to do so was just too much.
As far as I know the NEC has not told Ian what rule he actually broke, even though he has asked them. If the Green Book rule is now applied retrospectively, an awful lot of MPs will be appearing before the Star Chamber, including Hazel Blears. They will not do so: this was just a cynical exercise to look tough and get rid of a trouble-maker at the same time.
Therefore, on Friday, 5th June I announced my resignation from the Party when Ian announced his resignation as MP. I have made many excuses for the Party in the past, but I just could not make any more.