Ian Gibson

Alan Simpson pays tribute to the former MP for Norwich North

There is something much bigger than personal sadness about the death of ex-Labour MP, Ian Gibson. Ian symbolised a time when the left, inside and outside Parliament, stood for much bigger transformations of society.

As a cancer specialist (of international standing) he also bridged the Science-Politics divide by applying a constant set of ethical principles to both. His mind was as forensically clear about dissecting the dishonest claims in Blair’s case for invading Iraq as in the inadequate approach to diagnosis and treatment of ME.

In doing so, Ian wasn’t afraid of taking the knocks and wasn’t troubled about building broader alliances with those willing to tackle bigger issues. He didn’t do machine politics. And though he had lots of time for humour and rigour, Ian had little time for the naked careerism that often surrounded him.

From the moment he entered Parliament, Ian became a cornerstone of the Campaign Group of Socialist MPs, holding the line on lots of difficult issues and giving the Whips a harder time than they ever seemed to give him.

Despite this, you’d have been hard pressed to find a Labour MP who spoke badly of him. Only the leadership seemed threatened by the expertise and integrity Ian Gibson brought into parliamentary politics. That’s what probably did for him.

In the run-up to the Iraq War, Ian was involved in scrutinising evidence presented by weapons inspectors Hans Blix and Scott Ritter, along with the case made by French Ambassador Dominique de Villepin. Against this, the claims of Blair, Bush and the War Party withered into derision. It gave Ian little comfort to be proved right. Predictably, it was a false charge that the leadership used to nail him.

Removing the Labour Whip from Ian Gibson was a stitch-up. I’d been through the charges against him and all were flimsy. Ian had cleared the sale of his flat to his daughter with the Inland Revenue, paying personally substantial tax on the notional profit he had declined to make. I’d joked with Ian that he’d be the only MP to be expelled for making a loss out of the expenses system. Nevertheless, this was what the leadership demanded. It was a hanging looking for a trial, a pretext for disciplining the Left for continuing to exist.

Ian refused to play the game and stood down. That Labour has never regained the seat stands as an indictment of leadership folly. In contrast, Ian’s integrity and courage, his humour, clarity and principles remained untarnished. And this is Labour’s real loss.

At a time when the Party looks seriously lost, we need people of Ian Gibson’s calibre to drive the transformative changes society needs. Ian’s answer, then and now, would be ‘Think big, be bold, and accept no half measures.’

Those wanting to honour Ian Gibson’s legacy now have to pick up the gauntlet he threw down.

Alan Simpson was Labour MP for Nottingham South from 1992 to 2010.

Image: The Parliament of the United Kingdom. Source: The British Parliament and Big Ben.Author: Maurice from Zoetermeer, Netherlands, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

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