19 November 2008

The East Lothian Question

We all remember Tam Dalyell's West Lothian Question - though we may not know that the phrase was coined by Enoch Powell in reaction to Dalyell's speech - and it does have a stranglehold on UK constitutional politics, but today is seems to have been replaced by a question posed just the other side of Edinburgh: Just what the Hell is going on in the East Lothian CLP?

Anne Moffat may or may not be at the centre of this. Hardly surprising: Moffat was the one who compared Alex Salmond to Hitler (worst of all, she wasn't even funny about it: the Labour activist who produced the dodgy subtitles to that clip from "Downfall" after Glenrothes did write it well, I have to admit, so I'll let him/her off). And when discussions started regarding her re-selection, it turned out that her local colleagues were less than enthralled at the prospect.

Indeed, that may be the problem: of the six branches in the (Westminster) Constituency, three voted against her gaining an automatic re-selection for 2010 (and I stubbornly hold to 2010: I am not taken in by the hype regarding June 2009 as I doubt that the Labour bounce will last until May, and even if it did, Brown had a golden opportunity to call and win an Election last Autumn and was found wanting in the chops department - I expect this to be repeated) and a further Branch, Prestonpans, was deadlocked on the matter. Even the local Fabians rounded on her: it was Union support that kept her in place, but the row simmered on, with the local party Executive seeking an "open vote" on her re-selection at an ugly meeting that saw her flounce out after reading a prepared statement.

Now, this won't do much for her standing, but there does seem to be a zeal about those who want shot of her: remember first that Branch meetings in any party are dominated by activists, and of course, personality groupings emerge (remember the SNP selection debacle in 2003?). Basically, this is where the coups can happen, rather than among the wider membership. But having said that, the demands for an open vote do suggest a confidence on the anti-Moffat camp's part that they would win it (no one asks for a referendum that they don't think they'll win), and it's hard to see so many activists in so many local branches being so out of touch with local opinion.

Anyway, regardless of what the local Executive thinks, it's now Labour's National Executive that's calling the shots. Mutterings from Labour people refer to East Lothian CLP acting "unconstitutionally" - I presume this is in the call for the open vote after Moffat managed to win it - and "defying" the national party - I assume HQ is quite the fan of Moffat right now: she flew the kite of returning to Westminster planning powers over nuclear power stations three years ago - an idea which appears to be rather chic in Labour circles right now, showing her to be some sort of trailblazer.

So there will be no formal business conducted by the East Lothian CLP, but the Party at large asserts that despite that, campaigning will continue as normal. Ms Moffat herself has shrugged it off as an internal Party matter. And the local MSP has said, "This is a matter for the constituency Labour Party and the party at a national level. I am pleased that the National Executive Committee is seeking to resolve it and I hope that will happen quickly."

Oh! Didn't I mention? The local MSP is a Mr. I. Gray, Leader of the Opposition. After the torrid time his predecessor had, the last thing he needs is a war in his backyard. It won't prove as fatal for his career, but it will be embarrassing, as the Labour Party's investigation progresses and various skeletons emerge from closets across the constituency.

And that's the real implication of this row: just as the Labour Party in Scotland had a chance of getting it together again, after the win in Glenrothes, with a new Leader at Holyrood and new spring in Gordon Brown's step, a group of activists in the South East of Scotland manage to go and press the self-destruct button. And drag the entire party hierarchy into their little civil war. The NEC is now involved, and the Leader in the Scottish Parliament can't stay aloof for long on the simple grounds that this is his patch.

This one will doubtless pop up again and again, much like the saga of Gordon Jackson in Glasgow Govan.


scotto voce said...

Indeed..... The reason Monklands became a national story in the early 90s was not because of some 'common or garden' Labour party corruption but because they didn't act to shut it down fast enough.............and the 2 local MPs were then shadow chancellor (John Smith) and shadow Scots secretary (Tom Clarke). I'm not, repeat NOT, comparing east lothian reselection travails to Monklands corruption, but the parallels re local difficulties having national repercussions are interesting.

Anonymous said...

it wasn't a Labour activist that did the downfall video - it was one of us!

Ted Harvey said...

What a sense of deja wotsit all over again! I feel as though Labour is now intentionally reverting to its entire pre-devolution structures and mindset.

We have recently seen Brown/ Westminster man Grey slotted in as Scottish Parliamentary Labour Leader, and then another Brown/Westminster man appointed as Scottish Secretary (or whatever it is they call it now).

We had the Glenrothes capmpaign that was seemingly ran (and on the streets packed by) Labour Party workers drafted in on 'national emergency' grounds from England. It worked that time, but what does it bode ober the immediate future for Scottish Labour?

Perhaps a signal about that future was the way that the successful Labour Glenrothes candidate (already can you remember his name?) allegedly was instructed to miss his second day of Westminster business and hang about like a bad smell in the Scotish Parliament public galleries to 'wind-up' the SNP. If true, what a tawdry display of petty despising of the dignity of the Scottish Parliament. - Akin to us being despised as the McChattering classes... by that now-dumped Westminster Labour part-time junior Scottish Minister.

Now we have Westminster Labour moving in heavy with Gray's own constituency. It's just all so 70s man! Now, just think on that a bit more:)

Chris said...

I first saw 'The East Lothian Question' on Scottish Politics (www.scottishpolitics.org) and was interested to see the same title here.

I'm not sure who, if anyone, has posted first. I guess it doesn't matter, it is an excellent title. ;-)