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Local focus

Brian Taylor | 17:37 UK time, Monday, 30 June 2008

Court news. David Marshall has been appointed to the post of steward and bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

Which matters why? Because that counts as a (nominal) office of profit under the Crown. Even nominal beneficiaries cannot, simultaneously, be Members of Parliament.

In short, Labour's David Marshall has quit his seat in the Commons via the circumnavigation customary in the Palace of Westminster.

Which matters why? (Other than, of course, to Mr Marshall.) Because it creates a by-election: exactly the last thing Labour needs right now.

I knew and rather liked David Marshall when he was first elected in 1979 - and for a goodly number of years thereafter. That was in the days when I plied my trade in Westminster.

Never flash, he was nonetheless a diligent member, usually pursuing issues of poverty, homelessness and the like. He once brandished a blade in the Commons to make a point about knife crime in his area.

I must confess I have followed his career less assiduously of late. But I am sorry to hear he is unwell.

Labour decline

His departure, however, poses Gordon Brown a considerable problem. One would normally describe this seat as "solid Labour".

Mr Marshall had a majority of 13,507 at the General election. He took more than 60% of the votes cast.

Since then, however, Labour has declined. And the Scottish National Party, second placed in Glasgow East, has prospered: not least through gaining power in the Scottish Parliament last May.

Plus Labour has lost a leader. Not THE leader: that's Gordon Brown. Mr Brown's writ extends, fully, to Scotland: Labour is relatively minimally devolved.

But Wendy Alexander, Labour's leader at Holyrood, has gone.

So, just as the party should be focusing on a tough Westminster by-election, it will also be thinking about future leadership and strategy, in Scotland.

Labour, we hear, will fight Glasgow East as a local campaign on local issues. The candidate, they intend, will be a solid local citizen. One name repeatedly mentioned is Councillor George Ryan.

Why the local focus? Well, would you fight on UK or even Scottish issues - when your party has lost ground at Westminster and is leaderless at Holyrood?

Scottish average

By contrast, expect the SNP - who will select on Thursday - to fight on Labour's record.

The 10p tax rate, the price of fuel, the price of food, changes to the rules on benefits.
Those issues may well get a hearing from constituents in Glasgow East.

For example, the 2001 census indicated that Glasgow Shettleston (the old name for this seat) listed around one third of its citizens as having a "limiting long term illness". That is considerably above the Scottish average.

Despite efforts at regeneration, this area remains deprived. The mammoth Easterhouse estate lies within the constituency boundaries.

This is one of the schemes memorably described by Billy Connolly as "deserts wi' windaes". (Translation: arid, glazed zones.)

Mr Connolly is an occasional visitor to another Glasgow East icon: Celtic Park, the home of the current Scottish footballing championsgue Champions.

Can Labour win? They can: victory for the SNP requires a 22% swing, notably substantial.

Different question

A comparable swing was achieved in Hamilton South in 1999 - yet the SNP fell short.

Good example, says Labour. Proves that the SNP can be withheld. Plus that was a tougher contest because it was "unnecessary". (George Robertson stood down to take the top job at NATO.)

Poor example, says the SNP. Labour was flying high, relatively speaking, in 1999. It's slumped since.

So will Labour win? Different question.


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