Labour MPs could pay price for by-election pressure

Another of Labour's would-be Birmingham mayoral candidates has spoken out against moves by the party's "high command" to bar sitting MPs from standing.

The intervention of Sion Simon, who used an article in the Birmingham Post newspaper to call for Labour to allow sitting Labour MPs to stand, is surprising as he is the only candidate who stood down before the 2010 general election to campaign for a directly elected mayor.

MPs Gisela Stuart and Liam Byrne are expected to seek Labour's candidacy if the city votes to adopt the directly-elected mayor model in a referendum held alongside local elections on May 3rd.

Their candidacies could be blocked if Labour decides it cannot afford to fight the series of by-elections that would follow MP resignations, however.

There are ten such referenda taking place in cities across England, including Manchester and Bristol. Other MPs standing for police commissioner elections also taking place this autumn, like Manchester's Tony Lloyd, would also have to resign their seat before the November 15th elections.

The party has been severely bruised by its failure to hold Bradford West against Respect's George Galloway and is viewing the prospect of more defensive contests with deep reluctance.

Reports suggest Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, whose husband Jack Dromey replaced Mr Simon in his Birmingham Erdington seat, and party fixer Tom Watson – another Birmingham MP – are considering blocking sitting MPs from standing.

That is triggering dissent from Labour backbenchers. Ms Stuart told the Times newspaper yesterday: "The Labour party's response is as an old-fashioned, backward-looking party.

"The party machinery has to show some faith in the good judgment of voters and you cannot do that by drawing up rules which narrow down the contest."

Mr Simon has made clear he also wants to see a contest for the Labour candidacy, observers have suggested, because he wants to avoid the impression of a 'stitch-up'.

"If Labour MPs were now prevented, only a few weeks before the selection process begins, from seeking mayoral nominations, our enemies would use it against us. And we would deprive ourselves of some good candidates," he wrote.

Mr Simon proposed forcing sitting MPs to sign an undertaking committing to "abide by the result and not to run as independents if they lose", however.

He also suggested MPs who trigger by-elections should consider agreeing to repay the cost of the by-elections if they win.

The party is expected to take overall control of Birmingham control on May 3rd. Sir Albert Bore, Labour's leading politician at the local government level, is backing Mr Byrne for the mayoralty.