Fussili’s Scylla and Charybdis

A further thought or two on the case of Labour’s new ‘Gang of Four’ – Frank Field, Kate Hoey, Gisela Stuart and Graham Stringer, all ex-Labour ministers – who are defying weaselly little liar Geoff Hoon and the Three Line Whip imposed on Labour which requires them to vote against party policy to hold a referendum on the EU Constitution.

If they are expelled from the Labour Party this week, would it not be amusing if they were all to resign their seats forthwith and stand in the ensuing bye-elections as Independents on the issue of the referendum?

This is surely nightmare territory for Labour as they would then be forced to campaign against their own manifesto in circumstances where their former Labour colleagues would have so much canvassing support from Eurosceptics that it would be difficult physically to move about in their respective constituencies for the duration of the election.

Given the high level of support amongst the electorate for a referendum concurrently with a low level of support nationally for Labour (assuming the polls to have got it right), Labour would face the almost certain loss of four seats to Independents and see their policy on a referendum spectacularly rejected by real voters in a real election. It would be a truly appalling scenario for Labour and would be likely to mark the moment when their terminal decline began.

The Tories could and most certainly should save themselves a lot of hassle by backing the independents much as Labour and the Lib ‘Dems’ facilitated Martin Bell’s election in Tatton in 1997 with a careful declaration of why this was seen as a matter of principle and honour on the very narrow, but nonetheless important issue of the promise to hold a referendum. They could then campaign at some leisure on that narrow issue whilst freeing themselves to take the chance to attack Labour’s policies without having to spend much time defending their own.

The Lib ‘Dems’ would be facing the worst of all possible worlds: their official policy is to junk their manifesto promise and they have thus far meekly followed the Labour Party into the lobbies in support of ratification of the Treaty of Lisbon like so many lapdogs.

Yet there is a groundswell of rebellion in their ranks against the policy of not having a referendum on the Treaty, some Lib ‘Dems’ having remembered, through a fog of Europhilia, that they have something called a conscience, so there would almost certainly be some rather fratricidal biffing going on.

So bye-elections just now would find them caught firmly between the Scylla and Charybdis of campaigning against their own 2005 manifesto or performing an ignominious u-turn back to supporting it. And that is after they have agonised about whether to stand or not in the first place and risk being seen to be what they in fact are: Labour’s lickspittle patsies.

As Independents each would have a pretty good run at a famous win with the factors of sticking it to the government, the issue of a referendum, support from Conservatives and UKIP voters and the personal vote each can command. Only Edgbaston and perhaps Renfrewshire East might be thought of as winnable Tory seats in ordinary circumstances and so conceding them to independents would be worth every bit of the damage to Labour their loss would occasion. So let us hope Labour chucks them out and then let the games begin.

The 2005 results were:

Vauxhall

Labour Kate Hoey 19,744 (52.9%)

Liberal Democrat Charles Anglin 9,767 (26.1%)

Conservative Edward Heckels 5,405 (14.5%)

Green Tim Summers 1,705 (4.6%)

UKIP Robert McWhirter 271 (0.7%)

Socialist Party (GB) Daniel Lambert 240 (0.6%)

English Democrats Janus Polenceus 221 (0.6%)

Majority 9,977 (26.7%)

Turnout 37,363 (46.9%)

Birkenhead

Labour Frank Field 18,059 (65.0%)

Liberal Democrat Stuart Kelly 5,125 (18.4%)

Conservative Howard Morton 4,602 (16.6%)

Majority 12,934 (46.5%)

Turnout 27,786 (48.7%)

Birmingham Edgbaston

Labour Gisela Stuart 16,465 (43.8%)

Conservative Deidre Alden 14,116 (37.5 %)

Liberal Democrat Mike Dixon 5,185 (13.8%)

Green Peter Beck 1,116 (3.0%)

UKIP Stephen White 749 (2.0%)

Majority 2,349 (6.2%)

Turnout 37,631 (58.0%)

Manchester, Blackley

Labour Graham Stringer 17,187 (62.3%)

Liberal Democrat Iain Donaldson 5,160 (18.7%)

Conservative Amar Ahmed 3,690 (13.4%)

UKIP Roger Bullock 1,554 (5.6%)

Majority 12,027 (43.6%)

Turnout 27,591 (45.8%)

UPDATE: I am chided by my blogging colleague Tapestry for an unforgiveable failure to acknowledge his earlier piece which drew my attention to the addition of Graham Stringer to the group of three (Field, Hoey and Stuart) whose opposition to the Labour Party Diktat on the issue of a referendum I have been following (I hope assiduously) since the summer of 2007 (here, here, here, here & here). His piece was excellent.

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