Labour's Liam Byrne is to be suspended from the Commons for the paltry sum of two days after he was found to have breached bullying and harassment rules. The complainant was David Barker, an aide to Byrne's disastrous run for Mayor of the West Midlands last year. Barker said he had been expected to work up to 14 hours a day with no pay, despite being contracted to a part-time role. After an office dispute with Byrne he was reportedly sent home and barred from his IT account. Numerous attempts by Barker to contact Byrne about his future were ignored.
A joint investigation by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and Independent Expert Panel found Byrne to have breached bullying rules, having deliberately ostracised his aide and exercising a 'significant misuse of power'. In addition to the suspension, Byrne must write a formal letter of apology to his former aide and undergo training in order to address the 'causes of his behaviour and weaknesses in the management of his office'.
However, Barker and his representatives said that the punishment does not fit the crime. Barker, who is standing as a Labour candidate in next week's Birmingham council elections, has called on his party to strip Byrne of the party whip and force a by-election in his Birmingham Hodge Hill constituency. The GMB union which represented Barker described the situation as 'horrendous' and said the measures meted out to the MP fell 'far beneath' what was needed to tackle such abuse.
Following the judgement, Byrne posted a statement on his website in which he accepted the verdict and acknowledged that he had not resolved the dispute 'correctly'. The MP has previous when it comes to his behaviour towards staff. In 2008 an 11-page document was leaked to The Guardian entitled: 'Working with Liam Byrne'. The document set out various demands of staff members including very specific food and drink requests (cappuccino first thing, soup between 12:30 and 13:00, espresso at 15:00) and the diktat: "Never put anything to me unless you understand it and can explain it to me in 60 seconds. If I see things that are not of acceptable quality, I will blame you". The document led the newspaper to liken Byrne to the singer Mariah Carey - an 'eager diva'.
Byrne is somewhat of a non-entity in the Parliamentary Labour Party these days. He was a minister in the Brown government which led to the most infamous moment in his career - leaving the ill-judged note for the incoming coalition government: "Dear Chief Secretary, I'm afraid there is no money".
He was briefly a member of Ed Miliband's shadow cabinet, but has been on the back benches now for almost ten years. In 2020 he was selected as Labour's candidate for West Midlands Mayor and with two weeks to go until polling declared on Sky News: "I will beat Andy Street easily". A fortnight later Andy Street (the Tory incumbent) not only beat Byrne - he extended his majority by almost seven percentage points.
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