Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Does Glasgow East matter?

So, the bye-election's on Thursday. The only specific poll, though showing a 17% Labour lead, wasn't exactly a good guide to opinion on the ground. The on dit has swung from an SNP victory to a narrow Labour one. Does any of this really matter?
The spotlight that has been shone on Glasgow East has been salutary in exposing a modern-day rotten borough, drawing plenty of headlines about life-expectancy, welfare dependency and substance abuse. It may even have been helpful to Labour's new welfare to work policy. But I'm not sure that Glasgow East will be an epoch-making bye-election. Firstly, although I wouldn't be astonished by a Labour defeat there (Labour really are plumbing the electoral depths at the moment) a victory for them is still the most likely outcome. Even with a drastically diminished majority, Labour will grab hold of victory with both hands, and try to use it to draw a line under their disastrous year and start again.
But lets imagine that the SNP do manage to pull off an unlikely victory - what then? Labour's position is so dramatically awful at the moment, that their MPs seem to have succumbed to cataleptic shock. They are frozen in place staring at their impending doom, and none can stir themselves to take any action that might mitigate. Even if defeat in Scotland is added to defeat in London, Crewe and much of England there will most likely be no serious move to dethrone Gordon Brown.
For one thing there are no realistic replacements. Miliband is the obvious choice, but he is hardly blessed with charisma and has already run away from the leadership once. Who else? Jack Straw? Caretaker leaders are bad enough in opposition. Purnell? Balls? Hoon? There's such a dearth of talent on the Labour benches that Gordon Brown, for all his electoral toxicity, still looks the most plausible leader.
So, for what they are worth, here are my predictions. Labour will win Glasgow East, with such a shrivelled majority that extrapolations to the rest of Scotland make disastrous viewing. The steady chuntering of unhappy Labour MPs will get louder and louder over the summer, building to a crescendo at the conference - where no-one will actually do anything. Brown will remain as leader for the time being - which is pretty much exactly what David Cameron wants.

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