Does Lesley Brennan stand a chance as the Labour PPC in Dundee East?
Electoral Calculus says no – Stewart Hosie has both the benefit of being the incumbent MP and the candidate on the rising tide of SNP votes. Maybe in 2020: Lesley Brennan has represented Dundee’s East End ward since 2012.
Nevertheless, Dundee East has been selected as one of 106 Labour “battleground seats”, and thus Brennan’s campaign became the recipient of £1000 from Tony Blair, who is donating £106,000 to the candidates in those seats, or so the initial publicity made it seem.
Tony Blair publicly wrote to Lesley Brennan and 105 others: “As the final countdown to the General Election begins, I am writing to wish you every success in your efforts to be elected and also to make a donation to your campaign.
“I know how hard it can be to raise money to fund a local campaign, but for you, in one of our 106 battleground seats, it is even more vital.
“This is where the election will be won for Labour and that is why I am making a donation to all 106 campaigns.
“As one of our key seat candidates you know better than most the scale of the challenge we face, but I have every confidence that with your drive, determination and organisational skills, you will deliver a successful local campaign that will also see our party returned to government.
“So, good luck and here’s to a Labour victory on May 7th”
Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher have several things in common as Prime Ministers – they led their parties to victory and huge majorities in the Commons in several general elections, and never lost a general election in their political career. Thatcher remains popular with the ordinary members of her own party: Blair isn’t.
Lesley Brennan, Scottish Labour PPC and Scottish Labour councillor, turned down the gift of a thousand pounds from the man who lied the House of Commons into voting for an illegal war with Iraq.
As Labour List reported, several other Labour candidates don’t care where the money comes from and will happily take it from Brennan. That would seem to be a solution: let the candidate who’d rather not take tainted money reject it. This would not be news for very long outside Dundee, certainly not once 7th May had passed and (sorry, but the polls say) Brennan hadn’t managed to beat Hosie into the MP seat.
It would only be a welcome reminder that although a generation of Labour MPs and others at the top of the party are still devoted to Blair, the party includes many who feel a normal human distaste for Blair: eventually, in the normal process of attrition, these devout Blairites will go. Not even Alastair Campbell is immortal.
The SNP are likely to win a large proportion of seats in Scotland in this general election. This is a perfect storm for Scottish Labour: the party has not, UK-wide, convinced voters there is any grandly-inspiring reason to vote Labour to install a government not-as-bad-as-the-Tories, led by a Blairite who has never worked outside politics in his life: in Scotland the boost in SNP support across the nation is showing 40-50 constituencies likely to go SNP: and the sneering nastiness from London at the thought of a Scottish party having a national impact at Westminster, whether from the Daily Mail “rivers of blood” or Steve Bell “incest and Scottish Country Dancing”, can only inspire more Scots to consider voting SNP on 7th May.
But will this seachange for Scotland to vote SNP last after May 2020? It seems unlikely. Unless Labour compound the problem for themselves by making clear that individual rejection of the party line is not permitted, ignoring local expertise on the ground about what people want from a Labour MP and impose their own top-down view.
According to the Dundee Courier, “Multiple senior Labour sources have confirmed the money is not hers to reject”. Apparently the £106,000 donation by Blair is only being spun as a £1,000 donation to each of the “battleground constituencies”: it is actually a donation by Blair to “national spend” for UK Labour and will be used by UK Labour in each constituency as they see fit, not as the local party decides. At least according to one unnamed source, who told the Courier
“She thinks Tony Blair’s office is going to write the Dundee Labour Party a cheque but it all comes through national spend.”
Lesley Brennan may be campaigning in Dundee East for Scottish Labour, but it’s not for her to be allowed to judge whether accepting Tony Blair’s money will help or hinder her campaign: that is for the Labour Party in London to decide.
There are a couple of ways in which Lesley Brennan could reject the Blair donation, if her local party are on her side, but – unless she were to defy the odds and defeat Stewart Hosie – doing so would certainly end any hope of ever being more than a local councillor for Labour: while she might have been able to refuse the donation as a matter of local option, if it’s made a matter of party discipline, rejecting it means rejecting any future with the party. Which would be a shame: since I was a Labour voter, and might be again, and would prefer Labour to be represented by women like Lesley Brennan than by political careerists like Ed Miliband or worse yet the red princes.
Westminster politics is all about MPs accepting the Whip. But to get MPs to Westminster, the party has to allow a certain amount for local judgement in each constituency.
As the former leader of Scottish Labour noted:
“Just as the SNP must embrace that devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people, the Labour Party must recognise that the Scottish party has to be autonomous and not just a branch office of a party based in London.
“Scotland has chosen to remain in partnership with our neighbours in the UK. But Scotland is distinct and colleagues must recognise that. There is a danger of Scottish politics being between two sets of dinosaurs – the Nationalists who can’t accept they were rejected by the people and some colleagues at Westminster who think nothing has changed.”