Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Once Green Field of Caroline Street

Somewhere in the draft section of the blog is a post about the impending by-election in Glasgow East. Usual story: the bloggers block headed me off before I could slam my palm down on the publish button.

Whatever the excuse, I do declare an interest with regards to the by-election: until boundaries were redrawn before the last General Election, part of what is now the Glasgow East seat was once part of the old Glasgow Shettleston Parliamentary Constituency, which is where both sides of my family are from.

Shettleston was one of those heartland Labour seats where they could put a Red Rosette on a kewpie doll and it would win by a landslide, but Glasgow East has become front and centre in British political news since the sitting MP, David Marshall, resigned his seat suddenly due to 'health reasons'. What with the Labour Government recently receiving a drubbing in both the Crewe & Nantwich and Henley by-elections, many political commentators are trying to talk up the story that if Labour were to lose the Glasgow East seat (to the SNP) on the 24th it would be the death knell to Gordon Brown's Premiership.

Of course political commentators have to run with that story. How else are they going to paint political intrigue in the coming weeks? It's the obvious angle to take, despite the fact that, outside of Brown himself falling on his sword, there's no obvious or plausible alternative scenario whereby someone other than Brown might lead the Labour Party at the next General Election.

There's no stalking horse in place to stand against Brown if worst case scenario happens for Labour and they lose the seat. (Would someone who could secure the support of a fifth of the PLP to trigger a leadership election really put themselves forward as a stalking horse?) Other attempts could be made to try and find parallels with both the fag end of the Thatcher years, and of the later Tory Government years. Where's the Heseltine like-heavyweight, brooding, bristling and waiting on the sidelines for his or her opportunity to finally ascend to the top of the greasy pole? Didn't you notice. Brown was the Heseltine figure on the Labour benches ever since that now famous carve up at the Granita restaurant back in 1994.

What about the possibility of one of the young turks, such as either of the Miliband brothers, Purnell or Balls breaking ranks and standing against Brown? I can't see it happening, to be honest. They've got enough problems as it is with the possibility that one of them will be the Labour in opposition's version of William Hague in the coming years. That's not an attractive proposition whatever way you look at it.

What does this all mean for the Labour Government? As it currently stands, it's a dead party walking. The musty whiff of an administration running out of steam, ideas and confidence is now overwhelming and it gets more over powering each and every day, as another financial scandal concerning a Labour hack arrives on the front page, to be followed by the six o'clock news headlines of economic figures that indicate Britain's heading towards recession, and what was once upon a time the 'Strange Death of Tory Britain' narrative has long since been replaced by a 'Strange Death of New Labour Britain' narrative.

To paraphrase (and bowdlerise) one of SWP's get quick rich slogans from a few years back, for the political chattering classes, we're now living in the 1990s in fast forward motion.

What does this all mean for the voters (and much more numerous non-voters) of Glasgow East? One of the poorest Parliamentary constituencies in Britain will get its three weeks in the media sun. TV and Print journalists will be tripping over themselves and their metaphors to describe the poverty and the apathy amongst the people in the area, and much speculation will be made of what happens next in the Westminster Village if Labour lose a seat in a part of the world they took for granted forty years ago. ComeJuly 25th, the media bandwagon will have moved on, and the poverty and apathy will still be in place.

The emptiness and meaninglessness of it all is disheartening for even a cynic like myself. Part of me wishes a repeat of the 1978 Glasgow Garscadden by-election result. It's less of a rendering of a 'plague on all your houses' and more of a 'confusion on all your houses' half-hearted gibe. That'd give the political class something to chatter about for a few more weeks, and they could leave the rest of us in peace and quiet.

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