Owen Paterson: Labour rules out cross-party by-election candidate

Image source, PA Media

Labour has ruled out standing aside in favour of a cross-party “anti-sleaze” candidate in the by-election to replace Tory MP Owen Paterson.

Mr Paterson announced his resignation after the government changed its mind over blocking his suspension from Parliament for breaking lobbying rules.

Labour held talks with the Lib Dems and Greens about whether to get behind an independent candidate in the by-election to replace him.

But the party says it will stand.

No date has been set for the by-election in North Shropshire, an ultra-safe Conservative seat Mr Paterson held with 62.7% of the vote at the 2019 election.

Back in 1997 former BBC journalist Martin Bell took on – and defeated – Conservative incumbent Neil Hamilton in Tatton, Cheshire, after opposition parties stepped aside.

Wearing a white suit, he campaigned as an independent on an “anti-sleaze” ticket, with the other major parties not putting up a candidate.

A Labour source had said a similar approach might be a “sensible idea”, but the party has now indicated it will stand a candidate.

Mr Paterson has held North Shropshire since 1997. Labour was a distant second at the last election in 2019, with the Liberal Democrats third.

The Commons Standards Committee concluded last week that the former cabinet minister had misused his position as an MP to benefit two firms he worked for, after a damning report on his behaviour by standards commissioner Kathryn Stone.

It recommended that he be suspended from the Commons for 30 sitting days, which could have prompted a by-election.

But on Wednesday, the government ordered its MPs to vote for an amendment to halt Mr Paterson’s case and to rejig the standards system.

Image source, PA Media

Amid an outcry from opposition parties. it changed its mind on Thursday and Mr Paterson, a former cabinet minister, announced he was quitting Parliament.

He said the past few days had been “intolerable”, but called his decision “the right one”.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson paid tribute to Mr Paterson’s “distinguished career”, describing him as a friend.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said Mr Johnson “must explain how he intends to fix the immense harm he has done to confidence in the probity of him and his MPs”.

Labour and the SNP have also insisted the Commissioner for Standards must be allowed to continue her work scrutinising other MPs.

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the prime minister had always been clear that paid lobbying was wrong and it had been a “mistake” to conflate creating a “fairer” system with a right of appeal in an individual case.

In response to reports Mr Johnson had wanted the system changed to pre-empt an investigation into the redecoration of his Downing Street flat, Mr Zahawi said this was “absolutely not true”.

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