Labour's campaign to hold on to a parliamentary seat in Glasgow descended into farce yesterday, as, less than three weeks before polling day, the favourite to become the party's candidate withdrew from the race at the last minute.
George Ryan, a city councillor who was widely expected to be named as Labour's candidate in Glasgow East this week, stood down, citing "family reasons" after he missed a party meeting on Friday.
The announcement was made amid rumours that allegations concerning Mr Ryan's involvement in a housing benefit fraud several years ago – of which he was cleared – were to be revived during the campaign.
Mr Ryan, 45, said he was removing his name from the shortlist of potential candidates "with regret". He said: "In the past 24 hours, I have come to recognise the pressures that this campaign would put on my family life, and I have taken the decision to put my family first."
The development deepens Labour's troubles in the constituency, after it was forced into a by-election by the resignation of the MP David Marshall last week. Although the seat was one of the safest for Labour in Scotland, with a majority of 13,500, the party must fend off the challenge of a buoyant Scottish National Party (SNP), on the back of disastrous by-elections in Crewe and Nantwich and in Henley in recent weeks.
Party chiefs had seen Mr Ryan, a father of three, as an ideal candidate, since he had a history of political activity in the constituency. His departure from the selection process has plunged the party into a crisis that could have serious implications for Gordon Brown's leadership.
Labour now remains the only major party not to have selected a candidate to fight a seat that it must win to steady growing concerns about a terminal decline in the Government's popularity in the run-up to the next general election.
Margaret Curran MSP, who had been seen as a possible Scottish Labour leader, is expected to be handed the candidacy this week, after the Prime Minister failed to persuade Steven Purcell, the Glasgow City Council leader, to stand.
Commenting on events, the SNP leader and Scotland's First Minister, Alex Salmond, claimed that Labour was in "complete meltdown".
Ms Curran, Labour's health spokeswoman at Holyrood, was first elected to represent Glasgow Baillieston in 1999 and was re-elected in 2003 and 2007. She confirmed that she had added her name to the shortlist, saying she was "deeply committed" to the people of the city's East End.
Mr Salmond said: "This is [Labour's] 'lost weekend'. They don't have a leader in Scotland; they don't have a candidate in Glasgow East, and they have a Prime Minister who refuses to come to the constituency.
"The combination of these extraordinary factors means that Labour has forfeited any right to represent the people of Glasgow East."