PM fingered for 'unjust style' after heavy loss in Norwich

Recriminations begin after 27-year-old Conservative's triumph

A former Cabinet minister today blames Gordon Brown's "incompetent and unjust style" for Labour's disastrous by-election defeat in Norwich North.

The party's vote haemorrhaged as the Tories won a convincing victory in the first contest to be forced by the Commons expenses scandal.

Chloe Smith, 27, will arrive at Westminster in the autumn as the country's youngest MP after achieving a swing of 16.5 per cent to capture the previously safe Labour seat by a comfortable majority of 7,348 votes.

The by-election was called after Ian Gibson quit Parliament in protest over being barred by Labour's "star chamber" from standing for the party at the next election.

As Labour recriminations grew over the scale of the defeat, MPs claimed that the Prime Minister's determination to act tough had backfired disastrously.

Writing in The Independent today, Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary and MP for the neighbouring seat of Norwich South, says that Mr Brown was selective over which Labour MPs were targeted after the expenses storm erupted.

He says: "It was this arbitrary approach which led directly to the by-election as the Prime Minister vilified Ian Gibson, but not on any fair basis. This incompetent and unjust style has deeply damaged democratic politics."

The Labour leadership took swift action against Mr Gibson after it emerged he claimed more than £80,000 in expenses for a flat where his daughter lived rent-free and then sold it to her at a discount price.

His supporters claimed he had been deliberately singled out because of his history of criticism of the leadership and won the backing of many activists in Norwich North when he resigned immediately in protest over his treatment.

Labour mounted a lacklustre campaign in the constituency with little support from senior ministers. It ended with its candidate, Chris Ostrowski, confined to quarantine with swine flu and his wife taking his place at the count yesterday.

When the result was declared, nearly three-quarters of Labour's support at the last election evaporated, with Mr Ostrowski picking up 6,243 votes, less than half of the 13,591 picked up by Ms Smith.

The size of the anti-Labour swing almost matches that achieved by the Tories last year in the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. Repeated in a general election, it would propel David Cameron into Downing Street with a three-figure majority.

The only consolation for Labour was that it held on to second place as the anti-government vote fractured between the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the UK Independence Party. Thousands of disillusioned former Labour voters also appeared to have stayed at home.

The collapse in support came amid deep gloom among Labour MPs, who left Westminster yesterday for the parliamentary summer recess.

Their low morale in the wake of the expenses revelations means there is no immediate mood for a fresh attempt to oust Mr Brown, although the question of his leadership could resurface at the Labour conference in September.

The mood was summed up by Andrew Mackinlay, who told his constituency party in Thurrock, Essex, that he would step down at the next election. He said last night: "Despite what's peddled in the media, it's unrelenting work – seven days a week, 52 weeks a year."

Labour MPs from all sections of the party denounced the treatment of Mr Gibson by their leadership. One minister said: "I don't understand why he was deselected by the star chamber – I just don't get it."

Denis MacShane, the former Foreign Office Minister, said: "Ian was very popular in the Commons and in his constituency. It was a misjudgement to expel him and we have paid a very serious price."

Left-winger Alan Simpson protested: "Ian was the victim of a political assassination orchestrated by the party machine in London. The machine wanted a sacrificial victim and who better than to go for than one of Gordon's critics, rather than his friends?"

Tony Wright, chairman of the public administration select committee, said: "He was a victim of a moment when all parties, and all party leaders, were falling over each other to show how tough they were being."

Mr Brown admitted the reverse was "disappointing" but attempted to play down its significance, saying no party "can take a great deal of cheer from this" as votes for main parties fell across the board.

What happened next: The youngest members

At the age of 27, Chloe Smith joins an eclectic list of youngest MPs, from Esmond Harmsworth, who ran Associated Newspapers, and George Grey, killed at Normandy in 1944, to Roy Jenkins and John Profumo. Here, others recall entering the Commons as its youngest member.

*Tony Benn, 1950, aged 25

I was only the Baby of the House for 24 hours – a guy called Tom Teevan took his oath the following day.

Advice: My dad said: "Say what you mean, mean what you say, do what you said you'd do, and don't attack people personally."

*David Steel, 1965, aged 26

There was no induction course. People drew diagrams to show me how to get around.

Advice: Take a little time before making a maiden speech.

*Charles Kennedy, 1983, aged 23

I was in awe of the place. Here were all these famous names, Jim Callaghan, Powell, Michael Foot, Ted Heath, just inches away. Callaghan gave me a tour and told the library staff I needed to be looked after.

Advice: The same as in any walk of life, don't be afraid to ask. People always like to be asked.

*David Lammy, 2000, aged 27

There were lots of press and flash photography. Then you're stood in central lobby and you might as well be a tourist. You have no office, no staff. It's daunting.

Advice: It's a marathon, not a sprint. Take time to reflect on the kind of MP you want to be that's true to your personality. It's important to spend lots of time in the chamber. You have to learn the craft.

*Sarah Teather, 2003, aged 29

It was an amazing spotlight for raising your constituents' concerns – you don't get that again unless you go on to be a frontbencher.

Advice: Your first few months will be a nightmare, but remember you have something that most colleagues won't ever have – a profile.

Interviews by Tom Peck

News
peoplePerformer had recently been diagnosed with prostate cancer
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Media baron Rupert Murdoch owns News Corps and 20th Century Fox
theatrePlaywright David Williamson is struggling to find a big name to star as the media mogul
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Arts and Entertainment
JK Rowling will not be releasing a 'romance' novel anytime soon
books
Life and Style
tech

Of all the computers Apple has ever made there’s only one that Steve Jobs had to sell his car to finance

Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidates on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
One of the 'princesses' in the video
videoYouTube reinstates sweary video after takedown for 'violating terms'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Functional/Full Life Cycle

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Systems Tester - Functional/Non-Func...

SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfordshire - £350 - £360

£350 - £360 per day: Ashdown Group: SQL Developer with T-SQL, Watford, Hertfor...

Business Intelligence Consultant - Central London - £80,000

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Business Intelligence Consultant - C...

SEN Teaching Assistant

£70 - £85 per day: Randstad Education Group: SEN Teaching Assistants needed in...

Day In a Page

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?