British Politics

Eric Joyce’s Hands-On Politics 

February 28, 2012

Multiple Pages
Eric Joyce’s Hands-On Politics 

On Tuesday February 22nd, police were called to the Strangers’ Bar in the House of Commons to remove a man who had allegedly gone berserk, assaulting several others and breaking a door. The alleged assailant was 51-year-old Eric Joyce, Labour MP for Falkirk. His victims were mostly Conservative MPs—AKA “f***ing Tories,” as Joyce reportedly called them immediately before launching into his hands-on debating style. The former judo champion was fair-minded enough to extend the horseplay to a Labour colleague who intervened to restrain him. Joyce was removed to Belgravia Police Station for 24 hours until he felt less tired. The following day he was charged with three counts of assault and suspended by Labour. It was a mother of a scuffle for the Mother of Parliaments—an unfortunate and undignified affair for someone once seen as a potential PM.

His political career had started so promisingly, too, with a mass denunciation of friends. After an army career starting as a private in the Black Watch and ending up as a major in the Education Corps—a rare peacetime accomplishment, especially as he was given lengthy sabbaticals—in 1997 he suddenly realized he had always despised his comrades. He authored a Fabian Society pamphlet called Arms and the Man, the “outspoken” premise of which was that soldiers were white, male, racist, etc. His sally was greeted with some disfavor and he was threatened with dismissal, after which nothing happened for 18 months while the Tories murmured the government was protecting him. And as good luck would have it, the honest major was soon on a list of approved Labour candidates. He also worked in public relations for the Commission for Racial Equality—more Black Watching, you could say. As the Daily Record commented, more in sorrow than spleen, he was viewed as

…a bold leader with a bright future, [and] his square-jawed, military bearing and smooth-talking style made him ideal material….

“It is impossible to do justice to the depth of his thinking. In fact, some of his communications are beyond comprehension.”

Since ex-soldiers with theology degrees are almost as rare among Labour MPs as ex-social workers with AIDS are among Tory MPs, he was elected as expected. He worked for several ministers, including Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth—although he resigned over Afghanistan. He edited a stirring work entitled Now’s the Hour: New Thinking for Holyrood and served as Chair of the National Executive of the Fabian Society, helping them to promote “an accountable, tolerant, and active democracy.”

He racked up hugely impressive titles—Chairman of the Great Lakes Africa All-Party Parliamentary Group, Vice Chair (digital) of Parliamentary Internet Communications and Technology Forum, and Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Skills. It will therefore come as no surprise to learn that our Eric is one of politics’ preeminent Tweeters, messaging incessantly on important subjects even during Prime Minister’s Questions. It is impossible to do justice to the depth of his thinking. In fact, some of his communications are beyond comprehension:

OK, who’s the hardest boxing correspondent in the country? Only one way to find out…

head in oven, feet in fridge; overall quite comfortable?

Just watched last 4 episodes of Killing 2. Scooby-Doo, Agatha Christie, Crossroads

Bloated hippo carcass on C4. Doesn’t look appetising. Predators accessing through anus and penis. We’re too harsh on humans, sometimes.

I’m in front of mirror in shorts,Das Kapital in one hand, @playethic in other.Putitwhereuwantit playing. Not promising.

No discussion? Then you are truly pathetic. Where’s your wind? Arse.

One can hardly blame such a (digital) philosopher for becoming violently frustrated when compelled to commingle with non-digital intellects. After all, we’re too harsh on humans sometimes. 

There are yet more skills to his credit. Or perhaps that should be credit ledger, because in 2011 he distinguished himself by being the first MP to claim more than £200,000 in expenses. It was not the first time he had topped the prestigious list of MP expense claims, but he always had an excellent reason for everything. Asked why he had spent £180 on paintings, he responded with a connoisseur’s confidence—“because they look nice.”  

How could anyone dislike such a man? And yet behind the Perth-to-Parliament fairytale, there were mutterings of the kind that too often dog great men—anger mismanagement, a failing marriage, attempted coups among Labour activists trying to oust him, and a certain fondness for l’eau de vie that perhaps encouraged him to imbibe more than his fair share of the £5.8M of taxpayer-subsidized tipples in Parliamentary watering holes (how proud it must make Britons that even in these belt-tightening times we can still afford to underwrite MPs’ refreshments). In 2008, he was banned from driving for six months. In 2010 as Shadow Northern Ireland Minister, he was widely criticized for suggesting that middle-class voters were liars, hypocrites, and racists. Ed Milliband may have been privately relieved when shortly afterward Eric was arrested for failing to provide a breath test after a motoring misunderstanding. He was fined £400 and banned for 12 months. He resigned his shadow ministry but—to quote the Record again—“few shed a tear.” 

Even if the preux chevalier from Perth is found guilty of assault, he can still serve as an independent MP if the sentence is under 12 months, drawing his full salary (plus expenses) until the general election. Labour may be unwilling to force a by-election because of the Scottish National Party’s present political balance. One Labour source said off the record to the Daily Record:

They really would rather have a nutter in that seat than a Nat.

Note how high the interests of Falkirk’s electors are ranked in this calculation.

Still, Eric’s rapid rise has passed its apex. As one anonymous Labour insider observed:

Eric Joyce’s political career is over…Many of us are amazed that he has never been deselected by his own constituency or taken off the candidates’ list by the party. It’s been a complete mystery why he has survived this long.

The master communicator himself is more succinct. As he once wistfully observed in one of his soon-to-be-legendary Tweets:

Er, looks like that’s dead, then.


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