Outlook worse than bleak for Labour

EADT Political Editor Graham Dines assesses the fall out from Glasgow East fall out.AS Gordon Brown packed the sun tan lotion, buckets and spades for his holiday in sunny Suffolk, the last thing he wanted to be told was Labour had been trounced in one of its safest seats in the UK.

Graham Dines

EADT Political Editor Graham Dines assesses the fall out from Glasgow East fall out.

AS Gordon Brown packed the sun tan lotion, buckets and spades for his holiday in sunny Suffolk, the last thing he wanted to be told was Labour had been trounced in one of its safest seats in the UK.

No matter from which angle you're coming, there can be nothing worse than this humiliating rejection by the voters of Glasgow East who live in a constituency riddled with deprivation and where there is a high level of dependency on state handouts.

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A Labour government headed by a Scottish prime minister should have been able to reply on Glaswegians to turn out in their thousands and vote overwhelmingly for the Labour candidate.

Instead, they have elected a Scottish National Party MP to Westminster and delivered not just a blow but a severe shock to the New Labour suits down in Westminster.

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The prospects for Labour look worse than bleak. Their only glimmer of hope is that they are fighting two different political forces south and north of the border whose aims are diametrically opposed.

In Scotland, the momentum is with the Scottish Nationalists. In England, the Conservatives have woken from their 10 year slumber and are threatening to rampage through Labour held seats, especially in London, the south and the midlands.

Although the Tories are being portrayed as an English nationalist party, they are so pro the union that should a miracle occur and Labour do better at the next election that looks likely now, it's highly unlikely that David Cameron would contemplate a power sharing deal with the SNP to thwart Labour.

In Glasgow East, Labour MPs believed that the party's candidate Maggie Curran, a feisty self-assured campaigner, was just the sort of candidate who could see off the SNP.

She ran a remarkably high-profile campaign and believed that there was enough pro-union sentiment among traditional Labour voters to given Gordon Brown some comfort at the end of a disastrous 11 months.

The Labour machine in Glasgow is well oiled. Unlike Crewe & Nantwich, which the Tories won from Labour in May, the party ran a well disciplined campaign. No criticism can be laid at the door of either Maggie Curran or the professional organisers for Thursday's defeat.

The uprising against Labour centres on soaring petrol, fuel and food prices. The Government may well bleat that this is a worldwide crisis, but that's of no comfort to voters. “The pound in your pocket,” as Harold Wilson once described it, is fast evaporating through inflation.

Gordon Brown spent 11 years as Chancellor pledging no return to boom and bust. Well, the boom is well and truly over and the bust has hit us big time.

Labour was caught out by a false dawn. This week started with opinion polls showing that Gordon Brown would be able to relish a victory in Glasgow East - narrow may be, but a victory all the same.

Now Labour MPs across the UK will be calculating whether they'll be able to hold on to their seats.

They had assumed that the Tories couldn't maintain their lead over Labour until the next election, that the gap would be narrowed, and with heartland seats in Scotland, Wales and northern England keeping the faith, Labour would not be wiped out.

Glasgow East and Crewe & Nantwich have dashed their hopes. September's party conference in September will be a bruising affair. Journalists will once again be able to enjoy Labour fratricide after the years of Tory in-fighting.

But while the whisperers are plotting Brown's downfall, the odds must be against him being dumped.

For starters, which of the alternatives has the guts to launch a challenge and plunge Labour into a deeper crisis? Do David Miliband, Alan Johnson, or Harriet Harman really want to take over a divided party?

Better let Brown go down. He'd resign as party leader and then the trio can battle it out.

They will also know that if Brown is forced out, there will have to be a general election. No party can change more than one leader between elections - there's nothing in our unwritten constitution to say that, but clinging to power with the blood of two leaders on the pavement of Downing Street would make Labour even more deeply unpopular.

In 1997, the Tories won just 163 seats at the General Election as Labour and the Liberal Democrats gorged themselves on the entrails of Conservative MPs.

After Crewe & Nantwich and Glasgow East, Labour now has to contemplate the unthinkable - that it will end up with less than 200 seats.

In the East of England, Angela Smith in Basildon and Bill Rammell in Harlow look doomed. Chris Mole in Ipswich, Bob Blizzard in Waveney, and Barbara Follett in Stevenage can't be confident of winning.

Labour's four seats in Norwich and Luton may be safe, but Watford, Bedford and Thurrock won't survive a landslide.

Just one final thought on Glasgow East. The result cannot be taken as an indication that the voters wanting an end to the union.

It was a protest against Gordon Brown, a fate suffered by prime ministers since time in memorial.

When the SNP gets around to holding a referendum, I still expect Labour voters to reject independence and keep the union alive.


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