The political career of Derek Conway, the senior Tory MP accused of overpaying two sons he employed as Commons researchers, is in ruins after David Cameron withdrew the party whip from him.
Mr Cameron signalled that Mr Conway would not be allowed back into the fold, which means he will not be able to be a Tory candidate at the next general election. The Tory leader said Mr Conway had "an awful lot of road to make up" to regain the whip.
He has been warned by party whips that he should not regard his punishment as temporary. Amid Tory embarrassment at Westminster, Mr Cameron had to make a swift U-turn a day after he judged that a 10-day suspension from the Commons was a sufficient penalty for the MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup.
He came under pressure to discipline Mr Conway after Labour seized on the revelation that he paid his eldest son Henry £10,000 as a part-time research assistant for an 18-hour week while he was at university. The 10-day suspension was a punishment for overpaying his youngest son, Freddie, who received £11,173 a year for a 17-hour week while he too was a student.
A Labour MP lodged a formal complaint with the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, who on Monday ruled that he had overpaid Freddie, over his employment of Henry.
Mr Conway also faces the possibility of a police investigation. Duncan Borrowman, the Liberal Democrat candidate in his constituency, has written to Scotland Yard asking for an inquiry. But some MPs believe the police may not have the power to intervene in what is a parliamentary matter.
The Tory leader acted after Patrick McLoughlin, the Opposition chief whip, quizzed Mr Conway about his second son's role and was not satisfied with the explanation he was given.
The MP, who has apologised, said that he had "no quarrel" with Mr Cameron's punishment, describing it as "understandable, if not inevitable". But friends said that he was the victim of a "witch-hunt". Roger Gale, a Tory backbencher, said he was "a good constituency MP and an honourable man", adding, "a man has been told he's guilty until he can prove his innocence."
Mr Cameron said: "Having asked the chief whip to speak again to Mr Conway and having personally reflected overnight, I have decided to withdraw the Conservative whip from Mr Conway."
The Tories insisted that Mr Cameron had acted more decisively than Gordon Brown, who was accused of dithering for two weeks before Peter Hain resigned from the Cabinet over his late declarations of £103,000 of donations to his Labour deputy leadership campaign.
But Labour MPs were relieved that the behaviour of a Conservative MP had brought some relief from the spate of funding scandals engulfing their own party. They hope the public will view the Conway affair as more serious than the allegations against Mr Hain and other deputy leadership contenders.
Mr Brown told his Cabinet yesterday to put the funding rows behind it and "push ahead with the reform agenda".
The Tories launched a counterstrike against John Mann, the Labour MP who asked the commissioner to investigate Mr Conway's payments to his second son. They issued a complaint against him for not disclosing to the Electoral Commission support he receives from the GMB union which he had listed in the MPs' register of interests.
Mr Mann said: "Twenty-four hours and a few bad headlines later, David Cameron has flip-flopped and decided to ditch Derek Conway after all. He has not sacked Derek Conway on a point of principle, but only because he has become a PR problem."
Stuart Wheeler, a Tory donor and businessman, described the allegations against Mr Conway as "shocking" and giving a "bad impression of politics".
'A likeable arch-plotter'
Derek Conway had reason to think he might cap his political career by becoming Speaker of the Commons. His hopes were scuppered when his UK Independence Party election opponent lodged a formal complaint after newspaper revelations that he employed his youngest son as a Commons researcher while he was still at university. He would probably have become Tory chief whip if his friend David Davis had beaten David Cameron for the party leadership. As a government whip, he helped John Major soldier on as Prime Minister even when he lost his Commons majority. He is seen by colleagues as a likeable arch-plotter. Brought up on Tyneside, he entered parliament in 1983 as MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham but lost his seat in 1997. He returned as Sir Edward Heath's successor in Old Bexley and Sidcup in 2001.