19 May 2007

A strange time for Labour

I've been gathering my thoughts on Labour, and I've come to a surprising conclusion: they are in a stronger position that I anticipated.

Let's start with the bad news: they are, indeed, the second party, and they are in Opposition. They failed to regain Dennis Canavan's stronghold of Falkirk West. They now have no constituencies in the Highlands. They have lost Edinburgh East & Musselburgh. Not only have they lost Central Fife (once Henry McLeish country), but also Stirling and Dunfermline West, failing to exorcise the demons on the Dunfermline & West Fife By-Election. They lost Cunninghame North (albeit only just), despite the challenge to the SNP vote from Campbell Martin, and with STV, they've lost a massive swathe of Councillors, lost first place there to the SNP, and Councils where they had control are falling to all manner of alliances designed specifically to get Labour out. Plus which, the knives are out for Jack McConnell.

So where are the rays of sunshine? Well, Cumbernauld & Kilsyth is still Labour. The loss of Labour's last Highland constituency was offset by the gain of a third Regional seat. The Party held on in Edinburgh Central, and in Linlithgow, and now has a Regional presence in the Lothians. Each of Labour's constituency losses in Mid Scotland & Fife was offset with the election of a Regional MSP. The Party held on in Aberdeen Central. Dumfries is still Labour, Strathkelvin & Bearsden has gone back to Labour and all three Renfrewshire constituencies have been held. The Party is only one seat off the lead (and with the news that the new SNP MSP for Livingston Angela Constance is pregnant, they'll spend a good part of the Autumn level with the SNP), and with attention focused on the Westminster succession and the race to be Gordon Brown's deputy, the heat is temporarily off Jack McConnell.

But how does Brown react to the new world? If he applies a confrontational approach to the new Executive, there's a risk he might get punished by the electorate in Labour's heartlands. With fewer Labour members in elected positions, and more members of other parties in their place, Scottish MPs might be looking over their shoulders. On the other hand, Brown can't be seen as giving in to the Salmond administration, certainly not with the challenge the Tories now pose in England. Any suggestion that he favours Scotland over England is curtains for his Premiership.

And the big question is, how long does McConnell last? He's presented his Frontbench team, but it's not much different to his Cabinet. McCabe leaves (The Scotsman says that this is of his own accord), Jamieson and Curran switch places and Alexander returns. Iain Gray comes straight back in as a Shadow Minister, working under Alexander and with the portfolio that he took when Alexander resigned as Enterprise Minister, and a handful of ex-Backbenchers come in. But Charlie Gordon remains a threat to McConnell's authority from within the Group, and Wendy Alexander is probably favoured from the new UK Labour Leader-Designate.

But what of Labour's opposition tactics? McConnell sounded petty in the debate for the First Ministerial election, which backfired. They acquiesced to the SNP Cabinet selection, choosing to abstain rather than oppose, despite complaining about the new plans, and they're planning to publish an alternative legislative programme. That last point is the boldest step and the most impressive one... if they get support for it.

I still don't know what to think about Labour's fortunes. They're still standing, and they're trying to fight. Sometimes this will backfire, occasionally they may win a battle, but the big question is McConnell's leadership. Until he is gone, or his challengers lose any credibility, there is a risk that Labour will turn its guns on itself, and that, more than the election, will prove disastrous for the Party.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

They've lost the moral high ground as they've also embarrassed themselves by going on about dying MSPs giving them an advantage...here.