Support 110 years of independent journalism.

25 July 2008

Apocalypse Now

Few predicted the result of the Glasgow East by-election and the consequences will reverberate for s

By Martin Bright

Just when we thought it couldn’t get any worse, it just did. The sheer scale of the Labour defeat in Glasgow East (a 22 per cent swing and the loss of a 13,000 majority) makes this no ordinary by-election. The turnout (42 per cent) is only just down on the general election of 2005. This is no freak result.

Ministers have been appearing on the TV and radio all day armed with the now familiar mantra: “we must listen to the electorate” or “we are getting the blame for the economic situation” or “we are not getting our message across”. Each in its way is a coded criticism of the Prime Minister.

The GMB trade union has already called for a leadership contest in the autumn. But so far no one has had the balls to take on Gordon Brown. But it surely can’t be long now. The knives will certainly be out by the time of Labour Party conference in Manchester in September. Glasgow East has shown that no one’s seat is safe, so the pool of potential conspirators keen to secure their place in parliament at the next election has just increased sizeably overnight.

Few predicted this catastrophe. In a poll of experts by the website Politics Home 80 per cent thought Labour would scrape home. This is the same expert panel that was right about the London mayoral election and the Crewe and Nantwich by-election. Of course, they were within 365 votes of calling this one correctly as well, such was the narrowness of the result. But that is hardly the point. As SNP leader Alex Salmond has been keen to point out, the Westminster village just doesn’t get Scotland. Salmond has cleverly represented this contest as the London Labour Party versus the authentic voice of Scotland. The Scottish first minister has out thought his old adversary Gordon Brown at every turn. Interestingly enough, it was the gambling community that managed to get closest to predicting the result. A poll at the website was split 50/50, with marginally more voters backing the SNP.

The Labour Party is learning the hard way what happens when you take your core vote for granted. The Labour machine was just not geared up to running a campaign in such a safe seat. Maybe, belatedly, the leadership will see the virtues of reforming the electoral system, which allows places like Glasgow East to feel ignored and betrayed. Deputy leadership candidate John Cruddas has been warning about this phenomenon for some time in relation to the rise of the BNP. The far-right is strongest in Labour’s heartlands, which the party machine does not see as a priority as it chases down middle England in its target marginals.

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.

Will Gordon Brown fall on his sword? There’s no sign of it yet. But there comes a point when the party’s fortunes fall so low that Brown must ask himself if he wants to be remembered as the man who led the party back into the wilderness or the man who sacrificed his own ambitions for the greater good of the movement he loves.

Content from our partners
What you need to know about private markets
Work isn't working: how to boost the nation's health and happiness
The dementia crisis: a call for action