30 November 2008

MAD at the CLP

Following Anne Moffat's attempt to drag Iain Gray into the row over her re-selection last week, it was the anti-Moffat activists in the East Lothian CLP's turn to make a move. And boy, have they made it.

They are threatening to run an "Independent Labour" candidate if there are expulsions. Now, with East Lothian not necessarily the Labour bastion it once was, this makes Anne Moffat's position even more vulnerable, even if she does make it on to the ballot paper in 2010. And if the split isn't healed in time for 2011 (though the rebels may be better disposed to Iain Gray), the Leader of the Opposition at Holyrood is in a very ugly position, and might want to have his party re-consider its opposition to dual constituency/regional candidacies.

So what can we draw from this? We can see that ELCLP is moving to regain the initiative, and it's clear that if their activists are happy to fight this from outwith the party's structures, then Labour HQ has lost control of this situation. They can only regain it not by trying to back up Anne Moffat but by trying to put the party back together - and that means getting Anne Moffat out of there. And the only way to do that may be to offer her a peerage. That puts her in at least one Chamber of Parliament but gets her out of the volatile situation locally: everyone wins. But to force her through would split the party, it would come with expulsions (which would be followed by walkouts), make the seat vulnerable and massively weaken Iain Gray's position locally, as his local party would have lost its key activists, and the ones that would be left would be Moffat supporters - and Gray is not in their number. The peerage is Labour's only "Get out of Jail" card.

And if they carry on down the current line, well, the precedents are not good.

The Party split in Falkirk West, over Dennis Canavan's selection. Canavan stood as an independent, and won. Twice. And even now, Labour still do not have that seat: it's the SNP's Michael Matheson instead.

The Party split in London, over Ken Livingstone's selection as Mayoral candidate. Frank Dobson ended up humilated and Labour had no choice but to bring Livingstone back into the tent before he stood for re-election in 2004.

The Party split in Blaenau Gwent, over the imposition of Union official Maggie Smith on the Constituency. The Welsh Assembly Member, Peter Law, stood as an Independent, and won, robbing Labour of its majority in the Assembly in the process. On his death, his widow stood for the Senedd and his election agent for Westminster: both were returned. And Trish Law was re-elected as Assembly Member last year. In short, in the four elections to be held in Blaenau Gwent following the selecion debacle, Labour won none of them.

Could that be the Party's future in East Lothian?

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