04 December 2007

A saga rumbling on, a leader trundling off?

As things stand, Charlie Gordon is in even more trouble: it transpires he received warnings about donations from Paul Green two years ago, it seems that the Daily Record - Labour's voice on Earth - has turned on him, possibly because he yelled at their reporter, and he is making a statement on his future later in the week. As he appears not to have one, the general conclusion - which I subscribe to - is that he is to resign his seat, presenting Glasgow Cathcart's voters with their second By-Election since September 2005. What else could he announce?

Wendy Alexander, meanwhile, has received criticism from Sir Alastair Graham - a former public standards supremo - and the donor in question, who has described events as "bad management". However, this is counterbalanced by news that the meeting of the Labour Group of MSPs gave Wendy "unanimous backing". But this is in turn contradicted by claims that a couple of MSPs have spoken anonymously to the press, calling for her to go. Now, one or two MSPs muttering to the Herald is not the same as a full-scale revolt, but if it's true, it still damages claims of unanimity. Therefore, we can deduce one of the following: either Duncan McNeil, the Convener of the Labour Group at Holyrood, was stretching the truth, or The Herald was. Neither is impossible. But a stronger possibility is that both tales are correct, that a handful of Labour MSPs have spoken to the press in less than flattering terms about their current leader but are too chickenshit to come into the open. The current theory is that Wendy is waiting until after PMQs to resign - so that there is no scalp with which to taunt Gordon Brown then - but before FMQs on Thursday - so that she doesn't take pelters then.

It's a credible theory, primarily because, as with most of Labour's response to the concurrent scandals, it appears to be backfiring. The Labour Party lost its General Secretary to the scandal, but the press dug further into the story and turned up Harriet Harman's name. Harman tried to attach herself to Brown over this and that has only dragged him down rather than kept her safe. Alexander was supposed to saty to avoid the resignation bug spreading to Westminster. Instead, it has led Wendy Alexander to claims that she is being programmed by Brown, incapable of making decisions for herself and for the benefit of the Labour MSPs who she leads (remember that she only leads the MSPs, of course), and it has given the Scottish scandal more publicity in England, allowing more eggs to be thrown at the PM. This approach would stil give David Cameron and Vince Cable (as well any SNP MPs that the Speaker happens to call, but don't hold your breath for that) extra ammo on Wednesday, and give Alex Salmond the perfect opportunity to rip Labour on Thursday. It is the worst of all worlds, and given Labour's headless-chicken-esque response to events, it is probably their plan.

Should she go? In my mind, she most certainly should: she has broken electoral law and therefore her campaign for Leader was flawed, even though she had no challengers (can you imagine the mess if she had?). Is it partisan to say this? Not really. Let's try and sketch out the next few weeks depending on whether or not she goes.

If she goes, other parties will claim the scalp and celebrate for a little while, citing a Labour Party in disarray. But this story will die down, Labour will find its next Leader over the following weeks and regroup, ready for the challenges ahead, most notably the Budget process. And should there be a By-Election in Glasgow Cathcart, Labour people nervous about a leaderless party trying to defend the seat might want to speak to Liberal Democrats in Dunfermline & West Fife, where the Party won a By-Election despite being in the middle of a leadership contest following Charles Kennedy's clumsy departure.

If she stays, other parties - to say nothing of the press, which now appears to have it in for her - will harass and harangue her. Every policy announcement will be ignored: the questions will be all about sleaze, and the role of her closest colleagues in this affair. Muck will be raked, and Wendy Alexander will continue to be the story, until she goes. And this would even colour Cathcart: this would be the By-Election caused by corruption, and Labour would be painted as the party of sleaze, and with Wendy still in charge, Gordon would be presented as a scapegoat. The claim would be that any Labour candidate would be supporting a corrupt Leadership, and unless the SNP select the weakest candidate in Scottish electoral history, the likely outcome would be for Labour to end up one MSP down, which would all but force Wendy out. The Labour group would, as a result, attempt to lock the stable door despite the fact that the horse hadn't so much bolted as run halfway across the country before its absence was noticed.

So the partisan approach would be for me to want Wendy to stay and drag Labour down ever further. But Wendy Alexander is colouring, even poisoning, politics, a subject that got me excited enoguh to start blogging about it, so you can tell how much value I place on politics. Today, she has dismissed resignation as the easy way out. It is, but it gives Labour a chance at a clean break. So for her to talk about it being wrong - surely it's a bit late to start talking about right and wrong? - is to miss the point: her actions determine not just her future, but the future of forty six MSPs (herself included), to say nothing of Labour's Scottish MPs, MEPs and Councillors. That in turn has a knock on effect for every individual community in which the Labour plays (or could play) some role; it affects Scotland and its people; it could, potentially, affect the future of the entire UK, particualrly in the event of a close election, where every vote, every seat, may count.

And, at least ostensibly, Wendy has reduced all of that to a matter of her pride. The right thing is to go, and give us all a chance to start again.

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