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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 23:39 GMT
Dramatic fall for Vaz
Keith Vaz at an engagement with the Morton Tennants Association, in Leicester on 8 February
Vaz misled the Commons investigation into misconduct
BBC's Sarah Nelson considers how a man so popular in his Leicester constituency lost favour in the Commons.

When Keith Vaz was re-elected last year, the Leicester East MP, Britain's first Asian member of parliament, had a bigger majority than either of the city's two other Labour MPs, with a higher turnout.

A background of ongoing investigations into sleaze allegations seemed to have little or no effect - locally the former Europe minister is praised as an excellent MP who has served his constituents well.

So how come his peers at Westminster have recommended he be suspended from the House of Commons for a month, for contempt and serious breaches of the code of conduct for MPs?

Harassed

The answer lies in the work of Elizabeth Filkin, Parliament's sleaze watchdog, who has investigated allegations against him not once but twice.

And ironically, it's what Mr Vaz did after the second batch of allegations were made, rather than anything he did to prompt the investigation in the first place, which has led to his likely suspension.

Essentially he claimed that a woman who had made an allegation against him had phoned his sick mother and harassed her.

What has shocked the committee of MPs who have to judge him is that this allegation was not true - and it could have "intimidated" or "undermined" the woman concerned.
Elizabeth Filkin. Parliamentary Standards Commissioner
Filkin complained of obstruction from Vaz

The police were called in by Mr Vaz and they interviewed her.

MPs also found that Mr Vaz set Elizabeth Filkin on a false line of inquiry by asking her to investigate the phone call, and then, when she did ask questions, he accused her of interfering in a criminal investigation where police were involved.

MPs decided this amounted to contempt, and that is why he should be suspended.

These are serious charges and next week MPs will vote on whether to accept Mr Vaz's suspension - all the signs are they will.

Farewell

Mired as he has been in allegations of sleaze in the past year, Mr Vaz has found it difficult to find trusted political friends to come to his aid publicly.

No Labour MP has spoken in his defence now this latest report has been published.

The prime minister did give him his backing just before the last general election - but Mr Vaz was not reappointed to government and lost his job as Europe minister in the reshuffle.

And Downing Street has issued a curt "no comment" when asked about the suspension.

Reflection

If there is any comfort for Mr Vaz, it is that this report is the final "hurrah" for the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, Ms Filkin.

She has her supporters in the Commons - but not many and this will be her last report.

Mr Vaz feels that another commissioner might have found very differently in his case.

It may also be that Mr Vaz also would have acted differently - but he is likely to have a month to reflect on that very soon.

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 ON THIS STORY
See also:

08 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Vaz comes out fighting
06 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Sleaze watchdog named
22 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Vaz defiant as inquiry starts
11 May 01 | UK Politics
Mrs Vaz ordered to submit papers
11 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Vaz inquiry widens
13 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Vaz rejects 'obstruction' claim
10 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Vaz rejects property claims
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