Lamont silence condemned as Scottish Labour resist calls for Eric Joyce to step down

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By a Newsnet reporter
 
The Scottish Labour party are reported to be resisting moves to force ‘headbutt’ MP Eric Joyce to resign as the MP for Falkirk. 

If Mr Joyce were to stand down it would force a by-election in his Falkirk constituency, a move that would focus attention on the performance of the new Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont.

Mr Joyce has gone into hiding after he was charged with three counts of common assault following claims he went berserk in a House of Commons bar.

There has been mounting speculation that the controversial Labour MP will step down after several unnamed Labour party figures said they were concerned for Mr Joyce’s health.

However this morning reports in one Scottish newspaper suggest that Labour figures in Scotland want Mr Joyce to remain MP for Falkirk. 

The Daily Record describes a “worried” Scottish Labour party not wanting to risk a by-election.  According to the paper one Labour source has said “They really would rather have a nutter in that seat than a Nat.”

Joyce was suspended from the party by Labour leader Ed Miliband hours after he was alleged to have head-butted a political opponent.  Eyewitness reports described how the Scottish Labour MP had to be sat on by five police officers after several people were alleged to have been assaulted.

Mr Miliband’s prompt action contrasted sharply with the silence from Scottish leader Johann Lamont who has thus far failed to make any public statement and is facing growing criticism over her failure to condemn the Falkirk MP.

Yesterday Westminster MP Harriet Harman claimed it was not important who took action against Mr Joyce.  However Ms Lamont was heralded into her new role with apparent ‘beefed up powers’ that was supposed to signify the autonomy of Scottish Labour.

Johann Lamont replaced Iain Gray as leader of the Labour group in December and was widely reported to have been given wide ranging new powers that included authority over all Scottish Labour politicians.

However a number of incidents including claims of bullying and threats at Glasgow Council and the incident that led to the arrest of Mr Joyce have witnessed total silence from Ms Lamont.

Labour party activists in Falkirk are known to have been unhappy with Eric Joyce and have tried to have him deselected before.

According to the Record, a senior Labour MP said: “Eric Joyce’s political career is over.  Whatever the outcome of the court case, he is now a political pariah.

“People in the country may think it’s just an escapade but what happened was an outrage to Parliament.

“Many of us are amazed that he has never been deselected by his own constituency or taken off the candidates’ list by the party.

“It’s been a complete mystery why he has survived this long.”

Eric Joyce’s predecessor, former Labour MP and MSP Dennis Canavan, has already attacked Labour over its selection processes.

Commenting after Joyce had been arrested and charged he said: “If he is found guilty of serious assault, then I hope the parliamentary authorities take action against him to suspend him from the House of Commons.
 
“I am saddened but not very surprised to hear about this latest incident.  Sadly, it says as much about the quality of the Labour Party’s selection process for candidates as it does about Mr Joyce.
 
“He is not a fit and proper person to be an MP.  My sympathies lie with the people of Falkirk, not with Mr Joyce.  This all speaks volumes about the way the Labour Party goes about selecting its candidates.”

This is the second time in two years that the Labour MP has spent the evening in police cells.  In November 2010, Mr Joyce spent the night in police custody after being arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence of alcohol.  Mr Joyce refused to provide a breath-test.  He later pled guilty to guilty to failing to provide a sample without reasonable excuse.  

Sheriff William Gallacher banned the MP from driving for one year and fined him £400.  Sheriff Gallacher told Mr Joyce:  “You brought this situation on yourself.” 

The controversial MP also made the headlines as a result of his expense claims.  In 2011 it emerged that Joyce had claimed a staggering £200,000 in expenses for the previous year, which included over £46,000 in travel costs.

The former Army major also prompted outrage in 2010 when he likened middle-class voters to paedophiles, drunks and liars in a rant on a left-wing website.

In the last general election he achieved a win over the SNP with a majority of 7843 – 23,207 votes to 15,364.

Joyce’s fall from grace is sadly ironic given a statement he made in the House of Commons in 2004 when he said:

“It is also important to say that the drug of choice of most older adults, probably most of us here, is alcohol.  The abuse of alcohol creates far more trouble in our high streets and our homes than does the use of khat or cannabis.  If we think about the things that take up police time, alcohol abuse takes up far more police time and leads to far more offences than khat or cannabis.  The latter tend to keep people relatively quiet.

“… we want to direct the police to the more serious offences.  I am thinking about the kind of thing that I see when I walk about my constituency on a Friday or Saturday evening downtown.  It is alcohol that causes most of those offences.  I am thinking not only about the abuse of alcohol but about the offences that lead on from it.”