Scandal-hit Labour holds Monklands by a whisker

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The Independent Online
LABOUR narrowly avoided humiliation last night, holding on to the late John Smith's Monklands East seat with a majority reduced by more than 14,000 votes.

Helen Liddell, the Labour candidate, just succeeded in beating off a strong challenge from the Scottish National Party to win by 1,640 votes, down from the former Labour leader's 15,712 majority at the last general election. Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat candidates won fewer than 1,000 votes and lost their deposits. The turnout was 70.17 per cent.

After the most acrimonious by-election campaign in Scotland for a decade, in which the nationalists forced Labour on to the defensive by attacking the record of the scandal-ridden local Labour council, Mrs Liddell looked relieved as she faced the prospect of replacing one of Scotland's best-loved MPs. She told cheering party workers: 'This is a proud but painful moment. Painful because I must recall the tragic circumstances that brought me here.

'John Smith's legacy to the Labour Party is that he has made us electable throughout the country. The Tories are on the way out. Labour is proud tonight. We are on our way.'

The SNP, which had hoped that it would sweep to victory following its recent successes in the regional and European elections, said the result confirmed that nationalism was 'on the rise again'. Kay Ullrich, the SNP candidate, said that the party was on course for victory at the next general election.

'The people of Monklands have spoken,' she said. 'It's time for change now. On a swing of this size (19.2 per cent) there is not a single Labour Party seat safe in Scotland. The message from Monklands is loud and clear. The Tories have been in Westminster too long and the Labour Party have ruled Scotland too long. Labour, your time has passed.'

Susan Bell, the Conservative candidate, whose lost deposit was the Tories' third since 1979, said the result demonstrated 'the strength of feeling against the Labour Party and its practices locally'. Stephen Gallagher, the Liberal Democrat candidate, said the Conservatives' fourth place would send a 'strong message' to John Major.

Labour hopes that its victory will stem the recent rise in support for the nationalists. The SNP achieved its best-ever electoral results last month, winning 33 per cent of the vote in the European elections and capturing the North- east Scotland seat from Labour. In May's local elections, the party made strong gains in Labour's electoral heartland in central Scotland.

Mrs Liddell's election to Westminster will increase the pressure on Monklands District Council to act on allegations of nepotism, sectarianism and corruption made against the ruling Labour group. The claims dominated campaigning in the Lanarkshire constituency, with all candidates except Mrs Liddell calling for the resignation of Jim Brooks, the council's so-called Mafia leader.

Mrs Liddell, who last week publicly accused Labour councillors of discrimination in spending policies and called for a public inquiry into the running of the council, said she would seek an urgent meeting with Mr Brooks 'to discuss a number of issues which we seek to resolve'. Mr Brooks has so far refused to step down.

----------------------------------------------------------------- MONKLANDS EAST ----------------------------------------------------------------- Helen Liddell (Labour) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16,960 Kay Ullrich (SNP) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15,320 Stephen Gallagher (Lib Dem) . . . . . . . . . . . . . 878 Susan Bell (C) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .799 Abi Bremner (Against Criminal Justice Bill) . . . . . .69 Duncan Paterson (Nat Law) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .58 Labour majority . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1,640 Turnout . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70.17% General election, 1992: J Smith (Lab) 22,266; J Wright (SNP) 6,554; S Walters (C) 5,830; P Ross (Lib Dem) 1,679. Lab maj 15,712. -----------------------------------------------------------------

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