I can't claim to have known Fiona Jones (pictured, left, in happier days) but I was extremely saddened to hear the news of her death last week. Although her death was ostensibly due to alcohol abuse, her problems appear to have stemmed from our hard-drinking Westminster culture coupled with her shocking, but totally predictable, treatment at the hands of the New Labour hierarchy.
Fiona was one of a number of MPs elected in 1997 who hadn't really been expected to win, and who as a result had not been thoroughly Mandelsonised in the way other "Blair Babes" had been. Mandelson actually held a meeting with Labour Press Officers at 6am on the morning of Labour's election victory to discuss what to do about these dangerous loose cannons. In Fiona's case, the answer soon became clear: marginalise them.
She certainly wasn't the only one. Another 1997 intake MP who I won't bother to name also became well-known for enjoying a drop or two and for consorting with journalists, and within a couple of months of the election I was being told by people in the whips' office that she "would probably have to be deselected." Another victim of the briefing culture around this time was Gordon McMaster, who committed suicide in 1997, alleging that two fellow Labour MPs had spread rumours about his sexuality.
Like McMaster, Fiona Jones was not a heavy drinker before entering Parliament, but once subjected to its degenerate boozing culture she allowed a taste for alcohol to get out of control. Having worked in the Commons for nearly a decade I know how easily this can happen, and at one time I had to take steps to make sure it didn't happen to me.
In 1999, Fiona was wrongly convicted of falsifying her election expenses in what, in the light of what we now know about this sleazy New Labour regime, now seems a pretty inconsequential hill of beans. The sum total of the case against her was that she had overspent her allocation by a few quid by neglecting to fill in her expenses form properly.
She was cleared on appeal, but "whiter-than-white" New Labour had now cut her firmly adrift and in 2001 she lost her seat. Perhaps this is one of the reasons they were so keen to see the back of her.
Several other pieces sympathetic to Fiona have appeared on the blogosphere over the weekend, but perhaps the most revealing comment came from an anonymous poster on Paul Walter's blog, Liberal Burblings.
"She was treated like shit by a local and national Labour Party that should have at least the minimal duty of care that we would expect (especially a trade-unionised party) in any other type of work. I was told not to speak to her - "she's bad news." Fiona's story is not the first and will not be the last."
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