ERIC Joyce, the Scottish Labour MP charged with assault after a fracas in a Commons bar, was last night urged by friends and colleagues to leave politics and get help for a suspected drink problem.
After suspending him from the party, senior Labour figures suggested Joyce's political career was now over after 12 years as the MP for Falkirk. "We would be happy to get rid of him," one said.
Joyce, 51, was charged with three counts of assault on Thursday after allegedly headbutting the Conservative MP for Pudsey, Stuart Andrew, and allegedly attacking two other MPs in Westminster's Strangers Bar around 11pm the night before.
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The ex-army major was held in custody at Belgravia Police Station for almost 24 hours.
Labour colleagues told the Sunday Herald the MP had been urged to seek help for the good of his health many times, but to no avail.
One party member from Falkirk claimed Joyce had a hair-trigger temper exacerbated by alcohol.
Michael Connarty, the Labour MP for the neighbouring seat of Linlithgow and East Falkirk, said he didn't know if Joyce had a full-blown drink problem, but said there were signs seen in many ex-military personnel adjusting to civilian life.
"Eric has an aggressive attitude that a lot of people who come out the forces have. It's a 'get your head down and go for it' attitude. He showed signs of aggression when he was under pressure.
"I don't know about a drink problem or not. [It's] what I call aggressive and aberrant behaviour. The reaction to people criticising him, to be aggressive verbally, I think was quite obvious. But what I do know is the pattern of the couple of wee bottles of wine that you can buy in the canteen at lunchtime is a bad sign.
"It's not just him. But there isn't anybody who sees it as their responsibility to try to show some duty of care, and that really concerns me."
On Joyce's future, he said many people in the local area spoke highly of the MP's contribution. "But there's no doubt personal behaviour is something that gets in the way of being able to do your job properly. I don't want people to rush to judgment. I hope he does not get a custodial sentence. I think he needs help.
"If he was a pop star or a fancy footballer, his PR manager would have him at the Priory, [saying] he's turned his life about, got himself sorted out, wasn't it wonderful to have him back.
"But in politics I just wonder if anyone would say that. I would say that. He needs help."
The Sunday Herald has also learned that, at the 2010 Labour Party conference in Manchester, Joyce had to be restrained from "having a go" at another delegate.
A second Labour MP said: "It's a bit more serious than a drink problem. He's not an easy guy to get to know. He's a bit of a loner. I think he's a lovely guy but he's obviously got problems."
Another long-term party colleague said: "I've thought for years that he's unstable, but he's also completely arrogant and does not give a toss for anybody.
"The sympathy I have for him is that he has a massive drink problem. There's been instances where he's attended constituency Labour Party meetings very worse for wear.
"I have spoken to him before and told him to get a grip of himself. I always believed it would end in tears. I can't see the party letting him back in.
"I would be really concerned for him because he needs professional help of some kind.
"I think in his own interests, the interests of the Labour party, and the interests of Falkirk, he should get the hell out of there [parliament]."
Another colleague said Joyce's problem lay in having spent most of his life in two institutions – the Army for 20 years and Parliament for 12.
"There's never been a period of his adult life where he's had to discipline himself and conform to the norms of society around him.
"There have been a number of occasions where his behaviour has been inexcusable."
The source said that until now Joyce had been able to charm his way out of bad behaviour.
"He can be extremely charming, which is probably a factor in his own downfall. People have spoken to him about his behaviour being out of order, but he's capable of being very disarming and making it appear as a one-off that won't be repeated.
"But he has no self-discipline. None at all, He has no boundaries or borders or parameters.
"He's a bit of a chameleon character. There's lots of people who like Eric Joyce the politician and Eric Joyce the human being. He's not fundamentally a bad bloke. Despite his failings, there's a streak of decency there, even though it's extremely well hidden just now.
"But this to me is the end of the road and he must know that. I think he's done. I don't think the party will have him as a candidate again. I think it's very possible there might be a by-election."
The MP's local Labour Party is expected to discuss his future when it meets tonight, though it cannot deselect him immediately.
Joyce's majority in the 2010 election was 7843. The SNP need an 8% swing to win the seat.
Even if were to be found guilty of assault, he could only be expelled from Parliament if sentenced to more than a year in prison. If Labour disowned him after a lesser sentence, he could still sit as an independent MP until 2015.
A senior Labour source said: "We would be happy to get rid of him, but we have no mechanism to force him out as MP for Falkirk unless he gets a prison sentence of more than a year.
"If he's found guilty we wouldn't want him to be a Labour MP. "
Joyce has been an MP since 2000 but has made little public impact except by claiming the highest expenses of any MP –more than £200,000 last year.
In November 2010, Joyce resigned as shadow Northern Ireland Minister after being given a one-year driving ban for refusing to give a breath test.
It followed a late-night incident at the Ineos petrochemical plant at Grangemouth, when a "disoriented" Joyce approached a security guard to report a minor collision in his estate car.
The guard reported Joyce was smelling of drink and seemed "not compos mentis".
After police arrived, Joyce refused to take a breath test, and spent a night in the cells.
He pled guilty to failing to provide a breath sample and was fined £400 on top of his ban.
The SNP yesterday called on Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont to make a public statement about Joyce, but a party spokesman said that would be to prejudge the criminal case.
The spokesman could not confirm Joyce having a drink problem, but added: "If there is any help that he requires it's important he obtains that medical assistance. We will endeavour to encourage him in that."