Just when you thought the last 24 hours' news couldn't get more bizarre…

by Stephen Tall on June 5, 2009

Labour’s MP for Norwich North Ian Gibson has quit the House of Commons with immediate effect, triggering a by-election. The Norwich Evening News has his full statement, in which he makes clear his anger at Labour’s handling of disciplinary action following the Daily Telegraph’s allegations over his expenses claims:

It has been my great honour to have served the people of Norwich North as their MP since 1997. … I wish to publicly thank the hundreds of people who sent me messages of support. The decision of the NEC leaves me today bowed but not broken. However, I believe that my position as an MP between now and the next election is untenable. And after discussions with my family, colleagues, party members and my admirable staff, I have decided to tender my resignation as an MP with immediate effect and I expect it to be accepted.”

Here’s the 2005 general election result for Norwich North:

Labour, Ian Gibson – 21,097 (44.9%)
Conservative, James Tumbridge – 15,638 (33.2%)
Liberal Democrat, Robin Whitmore – 7,616 (16.2)
Green, Adrian Holmes – 1,252 (2.7%)
UK Independence, John Youles – 1,122 (2.4%)
Majority: 5,459 (11.6%)
Turnout: 47,033 (61.1%)

So a swing of 6% from Labour to Tory will turn this seat blue, and trigger the next bout of Gordon-Must-Go leadership speculation (if he’s still leader by the time of the by-election, that is).

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What an ideal opportunity. I rather suspect we’ll see an independent standing (e.g. Martin Bell), but if not, it’s a fantastic opportunity to get lots of LD resource up there and tell people why we must reform our political system.

by Neale Upstone on June 5, 2009 at 4:49 pm. Reply #

It is a good opportunity for an independent – and Bell has good links to Archant, which owns the local paper. But if not, it will be interesting to see whether a Tory win in the City would affect the key Lib Dem target in Norwich South, next door – which shares the same paper.

Will Labour delay the by-election? (I think the defending party can wait up to six months – does anyone know the rules for certain?) They can hardly be keen to have it now! Or will they want the embarrassment over quickly?

by Terry Gilbert on June 5, 2009 at 6:02 pm. Reply #

BREAKING NEWS: Craig Murray, ex-ambassador to Uzbekistan who resigned over torture, is standing as an independent: http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2009/06/i_am_standing_i.html

by Niklas Smith on June 5, 2009 at 7:11 pm. Reply #

Craig Murray will be standing as an anti-sleaze Independent. He is a good Liberal, with a history in the party and a fine record on Liberal issues. The LDs as such are never going to win this by-election at this time. But by standing aside for Craig Murray we could get into the Commons someone who will be a good MP for Norwich North, can hold the seat at a General Election, and will be voting on the same side as LDs. virtually all the time. The Tories would be embarrassed to stand against him.

by richard on June 5, 2009 at 7:18 pm. Reply #

I have to disagree with Richard. We should not stand aside for Craig Murray no matter how liberal his views may be. Voters in all by-elections should always be given the opportunity to vote for the official Liberal Democrat candidate. Let’s get up to Norwich and show that we are the ones to reform our politics.

by RMC on June 5, 2009 at 7:41 pm. Reply #

I would agree with RMC if there was a prospect of a good result. However, the tories have gotten better at by-elections and todays results show the public mood. It looks set to be another Crewe & Nantwich to me. Backing an independent who may well agree to take our whip on a range of procedural matters might be better option than a poor third place.

But it is of course up to the local & national parties. Hopefully they will take advice from the national party, and everyone will keep in mind the target seat next door.

by Tinter on June 5, 2009 at 8:15 pm. Reply #

“It looks set to be another Crewe & Nantwich to me.”

If that implies that C&N was a poor result then (given the circumstances) that is the wrong implication

by Hywel on June 5, 2009 at 8:30 pm. Reply #

Truth be known, I’d like to see Craig given a clear run here; and fuller efforts in the area concentrated on a spot of elephant-hunting next door…

by burkesworks on June 5, 2009 at 8:44 pm. Reply #

That’s not so bizarre.

7 People in the cabinet who can’t be questioned in the Commons is though

by Hywel on June 5, 2009 at 8:47 pm. Reply #

Why would we not fight this again? Lets not forget part of this seat comes under the new Broadland seat which is one of our targets.

by Carl Mayhew on June 5, 2009 at 8:56 pm. Reply #

Hywel: It implies that another C&N is less useful to us than a decent result for a Lib Dem backed independent. Given the circumstances, if you will.

It may be a high % for a campaign to achieve in those circumstances- I know it probably was because I went. But a reduced third place is not a “good” result.

Mayhew: Sure, but if we are at risk of a poor third it won’t help us there.

by Tinter on June 5, 2009 at 9:10 pm. Reply #

I don’t think delivery or door knocking will do any harm compared to not standing at all.

Plus I also should point out part of the seat is actually in the South seat too.

That is also a target seat. Do you want to tell them, lets not bother because we might lose???

by Carl Mayhew on June 5, 2009 at 9:21 pm. Reply #

No, you are correct, in that case we will certainly stand and I agree we must. On consideration I anyhow recalled that Craig Murray can be somewhat… unreliable in PR terms in any case.

I do have more respect for him that many of the other independents, as he has a long standing interest in politics as opposed to them. But nonetheless the only circumstance to back independents is when carefully planned like with Bell or in Kiddiminster, even aside from Bells possible suitability or lack thereof. I was wrong to consider just the imaginary electoral maths, there has to be a proper process and not just snap decisions.

by Tinter on June 5, 2009 at 9:32 pm. Reply #

I agree with those saying we have to fight this, and fight it hard. As well as the impact on nearby target seats, we also have to consider the possibility that with Labour in such dire straits, this could easily be a seat in which they come third.

by Bernard Salmon on June 5, 2009 at 9:32 pm. Reply #

I don’t expect the Lib Dems will stand down in my favour.

But they should! I was on the constituency exec of the North Norfolk Liberal party and i was President of the East Anglian Federation of Young Liberals.

That was before I became a civil servant. When I was sacked as Ambassador over the use of torture in the “War on Terror”, I expected support from the Lib Dems but got none. I believe this was because the security services briefed the party leadership against me – that I was an alcoholic, and making up the stuff about torture.

This hasn’t got better. I was amazed by the attitude of the Lib Dems on the committee when I gave evidence on intelligence from torture six weeks ago to the parltry joint committee on human rights.

Watch it and you will be too. Search for “Craig Murray” on You Tube and its easy to find.

by Craig Murray on June 5, 2009 at 9:46 pm. Reply #

Here’s the youtube link

I should make plain that I am not, and never have been, an alcoholic. Five years on, everybody knows I was telling the truth about our using intelligence from torture.

by Craig Murray on June 5, 2009 at 9:52 pm. Reply #

Well thats true to an extent. However if you wanted to stand as a Lib Dem candidate in a GE I am confident you would have been able to. You have chosen not to do so.

You don’t get to make unilateral demands of a whole party, especially one with democratic processes.

by Tinter on June 5, 2009 at 10:11 pm. Reply #

The idea that we need an ‘official’ candidate to campaign is nonsense.

I’d be very happy for Craig Murray to stand (with our tacit support) – I’m sure we can organise ourselves in the relevant areas, make the important point about the necessity of cleaning up politics and back Craig’s entirely luadable campaigns against the UK’s complicity in torture – more of which is likely to come out in the next few weeks…

by Dan on June 5, 2009 at 10:13 pm. Reply #

Come a general election, I’d say that independents standing in seats we’d have to heavily resource to win could be a bonus. We’re cash constrained and could put the resources better elsewhere against the Tories or Labour, such that we get what we need for the country… a hung parliament.

But.. then again, with the likes of David Cameron, BoJo and crowd, we shouldn’t really rule out being the largest party.

A dead Labour party has a lot of bonuses for us…

by Neale Upstone on June 5, 2009 at 10:17 pm. Reply #

Dan: It is rather easier to campaign when we are standing our own candidate. Although a more succesful campaign with less emphasis on us is better than one where we lose…

I think I will stop commenting on the specifics of the issue as I clearly cannot make my mind up!

Neale: In a general election there may be a case if there is a good independent in a seat we would not otherwise be targetting.

The issue is that (at least somewhat unlike Craig) that most of the independents are likely to play the anti-politics card very heavily. Some are unlikely to welcome our endorsment, and I would not be suprised if some others got us off the ballot then badmouthed away. It could also hurt if we were helping out many independents and one or more stood where we want to win. Its also pointless if we don’t have some sort of agreement that will see any who are elected substantially advance Lib Dem aims, which is rather difficult to arrange with unaccountable indies. Its something we have to be careful very about.

by Tinter on June 5, 2009 at 10:29 pm. Reply #

“Dan: It is rather easier to campaign when we are standing our own candidate.”

What candidate did Joanna Lumley have?

The problem with the party’s approach to community politics is that we forgot that you can campaign for an idea as well as a polling day.

However, we are a political party. Standing candidates is what we do

by Hywel on June 5, 2009 at 11:06 pm. Reply #

I saw Craig Murray at a fringe thing a few years ago at conference. He is fantastic. We should totally stand aside for him!

by mark on June 5, 2009 at 11:34 pm. Reply #

(1) Isn’t it up to the local members to decide if they wish to have a candidate?

(2) Historically, Lib Dems have stood aside in favour of independents only in exceptional circumstances. In Tatton, it was clear that only an independent given a free run could defeat Neil Hamilton. In Kidderminster, we backed an independent campaigning on a Kidderminster-specific issue who stood a vastly better chance of defeating the Labour incumbent than a Lib Dem. And we stood aside for John Cartwright and Rosie Barnes in the vain hope that they might come over if reelected. But we didn’t stand aside for Martin Bell in Brentwood and Ongar, did we, when the man in the white suit was inveigled into interfering in an internal Tory party dispute – even though he might have won had we done so?

(3) What is there about Craig Murray that is specific to Norwich, and what has he said or done that puts him in a substantially better position to win a byelection there than a Liberal Democrat? Sadly, a lot of people don’t give a stuff about foreigners being tortured. The torture isn’t taking place in Norwich, is it? And Norwich people are not being tortured, as far as I know.

(4) Does Craig Murray actually want to be an MP? Or is he proposing to use the byelection merely to air a single issue? Is he interested in issues other than torture? Such as the economy, education, health service, the environment, etc? Is he prepared to hold surgeries and discuss mundane problems with constituents? How could he hope to do any of this without a political infrastructure behind him? when David Icke stood against David Davis in Hull, he made it clear that he didn’t wish to be an MP and didn’t want people to vote for him.

by Sesenco on June 6, 2009 at 12:41 am. Reply #

Sesenco: Agreed on points 1 and 2. On 4, he has not just come out of the woodwork and does have an understanding as politics, so I think the answer is yes- but that he probably would not be as good as a Liberal Democrat.

On 3, its not really to do with the issue he became known for. Its the possibility that the media would give sympathetic coverage and he will capture some of the anti-politics mood that means he may get a vote. Indeed, this will make it interesting to see how other independents may do in 2010, albeit in the very different enviroment of the GE.

Hywel: Do you think supporting Craig Murray in a by-election will achieve some other end through non-parliamentary means? I am rather confident it will not so I don’t really see the comparison.

by Tinter on June 6, 2009 at 1:23 am. Reply #

Sesenco,

I have nil expectation that the LibDems would stand down for me. And I certainly agree it should be up to the local members.

But as for your

“Is he interested in issues other than torture? Such as the economy, education, health service, the environment, etc? Is he prepared to hold surgeries and discuss mundane problems with constituents?”

I find your unjustifiably patronising air to be typical of the arrogance that makes people want to give all the parties a kicking. As Rector of one University, and a lecturer or fellow at four others in three countries, I strongly suspect I know more about education than you. Ditto economics. I have a long record of interest in the health service. I have been in Greenpeace for a great many years. How dare you presume that an independent person cannot have a broad range of political interests?

Or that I would not want to do surgeries and help ordinary people. Frankly if you are typical of modern LibDem activists I don’t need your support.

On today’s ward results, totted up for Norwich North, the LibDems would have come FOURTH, bhind Tories, Labour and Greens in that order. Please, I genuinely have no desire to stop you standing. But never speak in that condescending way about me again.

Oh, and I am interested in Norfolk because I was born and brought up there, and my mum and much of my family still live there. In Norman Lamb’s constituency – an excellent MP.

by Craig Murray on June 6, 2009 at 5:29 am. Reply #

Regardless of whether the Lib Dems stand a candidate, the Conservative opposition is formidable: Chloe Smith seems to be a capable candidate, and a likeable one. Add to that a potentially strong Green challenge and the by-election is likely to be a crowded field, and a very challenging one indeed for Labour.

by Niklas Smith on June 6, 2009 at 9:31 am. Reply #

“Hywel: Do you think supporting Craig Murray in a by-election will achieve some other end through non-parliamentary means? I am rather confident it will not so I don’t really see the comparison.”

In short, no.

If Craig wants to apply to join the party and to be approved & selected then I’d welcome that. On an initial look he has a past commitment to the party, some local roots and the candidacy is open. But it’s up to him whether he wants to go down that route.

If not we should stand a candidate.

However campaigning on an issue doesn’t in general require a candidate at all

by Hywel on June 6, 2009 at 9:53 am. Reply #

Craig, I live in Norwich North and your statistics are totally wrong.

County Votes Unadjusted
Tory 11958
Lib Dem 5082
Labour 5155
Green 4659

These were the votes from the whole of Norwich North.

If we adjust them because Horsford and Drayton is s split ward between two constituencies, the results would be

Tory – 11308
Lib Dem – 4732
Labour – 5049
Green – 4454

Lib Dems WERE THIRD NOT FOURTH !

It worries me we are considering standing aside from someone who neither knows the boundaries of the consituency and can’t add up !

by Nich Starling on June 6, 2009 at 9:54 am. Reply #

Niklas, Ms Smith may be known in Tory circles but I live in North North, I work in Norwich North, I am politically aware and I had never heard of her !

by Nich Starling on June 6, 2009 at 9:55 am. Reply #

Craig Murray,

If you are asking the Liberal Democrats to stand aside for you, then don’t be surprised if we ask you searching questions. If that is being patronising, then good morning and welcome to politics.

Sesenco

by Sesenco on June 6, 2009 at 10:30 am. Reply #

Craig,

I watched your evidence to the committee, and I’m not sure it makes the point you’re making.

Evan Harris seems to me to ask you some quite important questions in a fairly dispassionate way, but it seems to me as very odd (unless there is more to it than is broadcast) that you take that to mean he is hostile to your position. If a robust case is to be put against the Government, it is surely all the more important that MPs ‘cross-examine’ you carefully?

You are probably right that the committee for various reasons will not achieve very much. But I don’t see they are wrong to ask tough questions to all witnesses rather than pouring praise on those who they are (for reasons of party stance or ideology) predisposed to sympathise with.

All of this (and parts of the exchange above) gives an unfortunate impression that you are a bit precious. I think that’s a pity since what you did was -from what I can tell – a courageous thing to do, and I thought you gave a good account of yourself to the committee.

by GavinS on June 6, 2009 at 10:55 am. Reply #

Other things not noted by people saying we should step aside

1) We already have a large and well organised HQ in Norwich North which serves the neighbouring seats fo Norwich South and Broadland.

2) Parts of Norwich North will, at the next GE be moved to Broadland constituency, which is a target seat.

3) Lib Dems did not finish behind the Greens in Norwich North and were in fact just behind Labour.

by Nich Starling on June 6, 2009 at 11:06 am. Reply #

I think you could go on arguing for days about what to do about Craig Murray. My twopennyworth is that we have a big interest in the surrounding seats and it would make us look weak to the public if we didn’t campaign as hard as we can. It’s another chance to get some exposure for Lib Dem policies and we should seize it.

by Prue on June 6, 2009 at 11:51 am. Reply #

This byelection is probably going to be between the Tories and an independent anti-sleaze candidate. It would be good to see the Tories fight it and lose it.

Gibson has defined the crucial issue in this contest. None of the parties has seriously tried to meet the public’s legitimate expectations about clearing up the expenses scandal. Labour and the Tories have simply thrown a few expendable people like Gibson to the wolves, while protecting the powerful guilty. We haven’t even done that much! So we are in no position to make this our issue.

We could stand, and scrap it out with Labour for a distant third place. We’d look a lot better if we took the opportunity to stand aside, and use support for an anti-sleaze candidate as our excuse for doing so.

(Oh, and there is a third option, which is to put our own house in order now. Then we would have the moral authority to lead the campaign for reform ourselves. But we seem to have ruled that one out.)

by David Allen on June 6, 2009 at 3:31 pm. Reply #

Craig Murray is an excellent public speaker, thinker, servant of the people and – most vitally – a liberal. I think he would make a fine MP.
But for me the question is not whether we step aside for him – sorry but we should not – but why the party has not made a point of pursuing someone of his obvious talent, experience and value to the political dialogue to join and stand for elections as a Liberal Democrat.
There is a lot to be said for long-serving councillors, community figures and party activists running for election, but I sometimes feel that we ignore the vast array of people who are obviously in the liberal tradition (sometimes more so than our MPs!) who we could bring in from other fields of experience – but don’t.
Joanna Lumley has ended up endorsing the Greens this year – I don’t know what made that happen, but what could they possibly represent or offer that we could not? There are at least two liberally-minded Independents standing for the Euros and that’s without those who joined Jury Team. There are known celebrity and media figures who are supportive of the party who we just don’t seem keen to use. Other parties actively seek out new talent – Cameron was much mocked for his A-List but its result will be an injection of young, diverse people with fresh perspectives into politics. The problem is they will all be Tories!
This is all a roundabout way of saying: Craig – however we’ve disappointed you in the past, tell us what we’re doing wrong, join/rejoin the party, put yourself forward and stand for US for Parliament. You will be a great asset.

by Benjamin on June 7, 2009 at 7:39 pm. Reply #

Craig Murray would galvanize the election in a way that a party candidate would not, and his anti-corruption and anti-sleaze views are extremely well-known – he IS a best-selling author. Its a shame that the election is out of termtime because you could have had a lot of student support with different timing for him.
Reading these comments, he and many of the local LibDems seem a bit precious – if he stands and resigns at the next GE (which would demonstrate his independent credentials), what do you have to lose by giving him a clear run? Only a bandwagon for a personality candidate can stop the execrable Tories, a worthy party local can’t. And he is a Norwich boy.
And my God, it will be fun! Get his wife’s best friend from Britain’s Got Talent to get the voters out!

by Chris Marsden on June 8, 2009 at 5:14 pm. Reply #

sesenco

Sorry, my comment above was unnecessarily angry!

by Craig Murray on June 8, 2009 at 6:50 pm. Reply #

Gavin S

Should you come back to this thread, I rather had the impression that Harris had bought into the government’s premise that it might be legal to get intelligence from torture, and was just trying to identify the line at which it becomes illegal if you do it too often – rather than the plain sense of article 2 of the UN Convention Against Torture, which is that it is not legal in any circumstances.

by Craig Murray on June 8, 2009 at 7:22 pm. Reply #

Chris Marsden;

You clearly knowlittle of the area. For a start I have yet to see Craig Murray call him self a Norwich man. Norflok yes but there are quite a lot of trobles over that issue which would lose most of the voters from this seat. Secondly you have the seats confused I think. There are vey few students in the north. South is the con with the uni. Also as a resident of the north and haveing spoken to my neighbours I have yet to know anyone who has heard of him. He is hardly Martin Bell.

But the most idiotic thing you said must be what do we have to lose. Well, campaigning in key target wards, delivering LIB DEM leaflets, door knocking and most important giving people the chance to VOTE for a LIB DEM!

by Joseph Reville on June 9, 2009 at 1:01 pm. Reply #

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