Labour anxious to avoid by-election over Joyce bust-up

Constituency holds emergency meeting on MP whose assault charges are only his latest disgrace

The Labour MP Eric Joyce faces being ditched by his local party tonight as members discuss his conduct during a turbulent week that has left him facing three counts of common assault.

Officials at the Falkirk Constituency Labour Party will meet at an emergency meeting to decide what to do with their controversial MP who was arrested on Wednesday after a disturbance in a House of Commons bar.

A number of activists are understood to be pressing to have the ex-soldier formally deselected as the party's candidate, amid claims from Mr Joyce's predecessor that he was "not a fit and proper person to be an MP". Mr Joyce has repeatedly survived agitation from his constituency party during almost 12 years as an MP – notably over his high expenses claims and a driving ban imposed after he failed to provide a breath test. A number of Scottish Labour MPs have suggested that he should resign voluntarily in the light of the charges against him.

But despite widespread dismay over the allegations facing their MP, the local party is expected to limit its sanction to rubber-stamping the decision of Labour's leader, Ed Miliband, to suspend Mr Joyce pending the result of any court proceedings. The move would strip the former army major of local administrative support – in effect, leaving him operating alone as an independent MP – but it would spare Labour the potential danger of a by-election defeat at the hands of the Scottish National Party.

"Eric doesn't have many people speaking up for him here at the moment," one Labour source in the constituency said yesterday. "We have supported him through thick and thin, and it has been very difficult at times. Deselection might be very tempting, but it could open up a can of worms for the local party."

Mr Joyce, 51, faces charges after allegedly headbutting or punching at least four MPs, including a Labour whip, during a disturbance in the Strangers Bar. Police were called to the bar after the Conservative MP Stuart Andrew was allegedly punched and headbutted.

Mr Joyce was charged with three counts of common assault after spending 24 hours in a cell at Belgravia police station.

Mr Joyce had faced calls to stand down before the last election after it emerged that he had consistently claimed more expenses than any other MP. He was also the first to claim more than £1m cumulatively.

Some Labour colleagues had expressed concern over his behaviour in recent years, after he experienced problems with his marriage. He was forced to resign from the shadow ministerial team in late 2010 after he failed to provide a drink-drive breath test.

Mr Joyce's predecessor, Dennis Canavan, who left the Labour Party to stand as an independent, 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.

"In any event, I really do think the people of Falkirk deserve better representation than this. The sooner he goes, the better."

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