The Labour National Executive Committee on Monday threw out the proposal to reopen selections for all sitting MPs who have been reselected to stand again at the next general election – which would have been by far the quickest and most sensible way for the party to lance the boil of the parliamentary expenses scandal, as it would be for the other parties.
Instead, there’s going to be an NEC panel to investigate Labour MPs expenses, which will then make recommendations to the NEC, which will then decide on various MPs' fates. (This is not the same thing as the independent investigation of the whole scandal,agreed between the party leaders earlier.)
The details and timescale for this NEC panel are currently vague, but it is imperative that it completes its work very quickly. MPs might complain of summary justice, but it is essential that any necessary disciplinary action takes place in time for constituency Labour parties to choose new candidates over the summer.
This would at least means that Labour could go into its conference - or even an autumn election - with sleaze no longer hanging over it quite so obviously. I don’t think there will be an autumn election, though the current situation is so extraordinary now I wouldn’t rule it out, say if Labour is almost wiped out in the Euroelections or a very big fish is caught in the expenses-fiddling net. But even if Labour manages to carry on until spring next year, it needs to neutralise the expenses story (in so far as it can) as soon as possible if it is not going to suffer utter humiliation at the polls.