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Labour lagging in by-election race

Brian Taylor | 13:07 UK time, Saturday, 5 July 2008

This is, as Labour is painfully aware, no way whatsoever to run a by-election.

Particularly a Westminster by-election which, let us remind ourselves, could help determine the political future of the Prime Minister.

All week, Labour in Scotland has been quietly tipping that Councillor George Ryan would be the candidate in Glasgow East. The selection, it appeared, was a formality. Solid, local man, we were assured. Sorted.

Come the selection meeting on Friday night. No George. The selection is postponed, confirming, if confirmation were needed, that the other two on the shortlist were makeweights. No George, no selection.

This morning, Saturday, Councillor Ryan formally withdrew, citing reasons of family pressure.

For pity's sake, did nobody in Scottish Labour think to ask the putative candidate, in considerable detail, whether he was ready to step up to the plate?

Given the significance of this contest, did nobody ask him in absolutely explicit terms whether there was any obstacle to his seeking nomination? Or did they ask and receive assurances which subsequently proved to be worthless?

Labour can, of course, recover from this. At the very least, however, they have started this contest in a fine guddle. And they have lost a vital weekend to parade their candidate - in a campaign which they chose to truncate.

Who next, then? Councillor Steven Purcell, the leader of Glasgow City Council, was heavily tipped. He will not be the candidate.

For why would you give up the certainty of leading Scotland's largest council for the hideous rigours of a by-election which Labour might lose, effectively blighting your own career?

No such qualms, it would appear, will deter Margaret Curran MSP.

She has announced she wants her name on the shortlist of contenders.

She is from the East End, she is the MSP for Baillieston, in the East End. She is also a putative candidate for the vacant leadership of Labour in the Scottish Parliament.

Why would she stand? To help her party out of a self-dug hole. To earn the undying gratitude of the PM, should she win.

Should she lose, presumably she would continue as an MSP, thwarted but gallus.

What if she wins? Would she then resign from Holyrood and cause a further by-election in Baillieston?

Labour declines to speculate on that issue for now, saying that she is only a potential name on a shortlist.

However, given Labour's pursuit of Alex Salmond over being both an MP and an MSP, it might be rather difficult for Ms Curran to retain a dual mandate. It might, I would suspect, be raised once or twice during the contest.

Again, what a way to run a by-election.


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