04 June 2008

Midlothian goes Labour

Labour now have majority control on three Councils, following the defection of Midlothian LibDem Katie Moffat (Midlothian East) to the party. This gives Labour ten seats on the Council, to the SNP's six and the two remaining Liberal Democrats.

This is a (rare) piece of good news for Labour, and it's something that various Edinburgh Labour bods have been quick to pick up on, as 1) Midlothian is next door, and 2) the LibDem-SNP Coalition in the Capital has a majority of 0, and the difference between success and failure can be the Lord Provost's casting vote. One LibDem in Edinburgh going the way of Councillor Moffat would place the Council Leadership in the minority and it would be a very vulnerable target.

But what of Midlothian? Well, with it looking like the next Local Elections will be in 2012, rather than 2011, anything could happen, but Midlothian Labour now needs the ugliest of turnarounds to take place for their position to change. In Westminster terms, this seat was solid Labour anyway - it would take a Crewe & Nantwich-style change for the LibDems to take the seat (and something more for anyone else), and the for the LibDems, a Crewe & Nantwich-style performance is not on the cards anyway (least of all in Crewe & Nantwich). For Holyrood, Cllr Moffat's ward is in the proposed new North Midlothian & Musselburgh seat, where the LibDems do not appear to be competitive. However, the Westminster election is two years off, the Holyrood election three and the Council vote four, so it's maybe not wise to draw conclusions about prospects then from this event.

However, if a such a malaise has hit the Midlothian LibDems that their Councillors are defecting to Labour at a time when everything else seems to be going wrong for Gordon Brown's party, then clearly things aren't so great in Midlothian LibDem circles. And that means that although the headline is good for Labour, the implications are awful for the Liberal Democrats. Particularly when you consider the following: which two Councillors in Edinburgh get the most flak? Leader Jenny Dawe and Education Convener Marilyne MacLaren - LibDem. Whose name gets mentioned the most in reports when Aberdeen City Council are taking the heat? Council Leader Kate Dean - LibDem. Which group on Aberdeenshire Council tore itself apart over Trumpton? The LibDems. So in local government terms in the last twelve months, the LibDems are connected more than any other party to the biggest shite/fan interface situations. Now they are starting to lose Councillors to Labour, whose UK Government Ministers appear to be striking a similarly hapless pose.

What I'm saying is this: the LibDems have managed to lose a Councillor in Midlothian, where they're in Opposition and so can't fluff things. No wonder Edinburgh Labour is excited. And frankly, the way things are going, non-LibDem Councillors across Scotland might want to sit up and take note too.


Stephen Glenn said...

Unless you know something I don't we have lost a councillor, singular, to Labour and have not starting losing coucillors.

I will for the sake of peace of mind do a head count at the next conference for you though.

Jonathan M. Scott said...

Erm ... does this mean the only way Labour can gain seats is by defections?

How many will there be the other way elsewhere, though?

And what does Labour do when the 2010 UK Parliamentary and 2011 Council and Scottish Parliamentary wipeouts happen?

Will said...

Stephen, this is not the first defection the LibDems have suffered since the election. They have been rare for everyone, but this one is especially significant: it hands full control of Midlothian to Labour - the Provost's casting vote gave them de facto control but they had to be super-organised and super-disciplined. Now Midlothian Labour can relax a little.

Further, you have a Party such as Labour which by any meaningful indicator is on the way down: take a look at the internal rows between Labour in local government, at Holyrood and at Westminster; Wendy's stramash over a referendum; Gordon Brown's disaster-prone Premiership - it should be on the wrong end of defection stories!

When a Councillor jumps ship, it's embarrassing for his or her party. When that Councillor jumps to another ship that supposedly sinking, then that says something big - and not altogether positive - about the state of the LibDems.

Jonathan, they did gain a Council seat in a By-Election a while back, though it was in a ward where the Labour vote was solid, and the vote was to replace the area's only non-Labour Councillor. As I say, this defection doesn't say anything clear about Labour at any level. It's undoubtedly good news for them but is not a sign that the fightback has started.

However, it does say something quite profoundly negative about the Midlothian LibDems, in the context of harsh times for other LibDem Council groups.