Sion Simon: I oppose ban on sitting MPs becoming mayors (but they should pay for by-elections)
Labour mayoral hopeful Sion Simon has insisted that sitting MPs Liam Byrne and Gisela Stuart should be allowed to put themselves forward as rival potential candidates - but perhaps they should be asked to pay the costs of any by-election in their constituencies.
The full text of Mr Simon's comments, in an article written by him and published in today's Birmingham Post, is below.
Mr Simon is the former MP for Birmingham Erdington who stood down before the last election to concentrate on his campaign to become Birmingham's first directly-elected mayor. His first hurdle - if the city does vote yes to creating a mayor, in the referendum on May 3 - is to win the Labour nomination against rivals Liam Byrne and Gisela Stuart, who are the sitting MPs for Birmingham Hodge Hill and Birmingham Edgbaston respectively.
The battle appeared to be won when it emerged some senior Labour figures, reportedly including Harriet Harman, the Deputy Leader, were calling for sitting MPs to be banned from standing as mayors or police commissioners.
Labour's National Executive Committee has already ruled that any MP selected as a mayoral or police commissioner candidate must quit the Commons before the mayor and police elections on November 15.
Ms Harman's fear is apparently that Labour could face expensive by-elections across the country. And after the loss of Bradford West to George Galloway last month, the party is in no mood to fight any by-elections it doesn't have to - and can't afford.
In practice, this would leave Birmingham Labour activists with a shortlist of one person, Sion Simon, when they came to choose a mayoral candidate.
The difficulty for Sion is that this looks suspiciously like he is stitching the whole thing up, even if the reality is different. It also looks bad - however unfairly - for his friend and supporter Tom Watson, Labour's Deputy Chair, who critics accuse of trying to fix the selection process behind the scenes.
So Sion has acted to make it clear that he does want a contest, and opposes any ban on Mr Byrne and Ms Stuart seeking the Labour nomination.
He also suggests, however, that they could be asked to pay substantial sums of money if selected, to compensate taxpayers and the Labour Party for the cost of holding a by-election.
Here is Sion Simon's article as published in today's Birmingham Post:
I announced in February 2010 that I was resigning as a Government Minister and would be stepping down as MP for Erdington at the General Election, in order to campaign for an elected Mayor for Birmingham.
At the time, people were shocked. They couldn't believe I would give up a safe Labour seat and a Ministerial career in order to do seek a job that might never exist.
Two years and two months later, there are three former Ministers vying just to be the Labour candidate.
This is unprecedented in British history. It is indicative of a huge shift in the structure and location of power in England which will happen, gradually, over the next decade. The move to elected Mayors needs to be understood as only the beginning of a process the final scale of which will be bigger than the initial bang.
Such has become the potential stampede since my announcement that there is now a prospect of perhaps a dozen by-elections. In Birmingham alone, the other two potential Labour candidates (Gisela Stuart and Liam Byrne) are sitting MPs. If either were selected, it would cause a by-election.
By-elections can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds and are a huge diversion of party activist and staff time and energy. So the prospect of a dozen all over the country is making Labour high command nervous. Talk has been widely reported of disbarring sitting MPs from standing.
Which is what should have been done in the first place. I stood down from Parliament because I didn't want to cause the party the expense and uncertainty of a by-election, and because I would not break the bond of trust with people who elected me to serve a full term. I also thought it quite likely that the party, for those reasons, would rule sitting MPs ineligible for the Labour nomination.
But they didn't, and now it is too late. 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.
Sitting Labour MPs should now be allowed to stand. They should sign undertakings to abide by the result and not to run as independents if they lose, and perhaps also to repay to the Labour party and the Exchequer the cost of their by-elections if they win.
But they should be allowed to stand. Bring it on.