Labour confident of success in by-election

Party expects to beat SNP in Glasgow just 16 months after heavy loss in city

Labour is quietly confident that history will not repeat itself today when voters go to the polls in a parliamentary by-election in Glasgow North East.

In July last year, the party suffered a spectacular defeat in a by-election in Glasgow East, one of its safest seats, where its 13,507 majority was turned into a 365 winning margin for the Scottish National Party (SNP) – a swing of 22.5 per cent. It provoked the first of two failed attempts by rebel Labour backbenchers to oust Gordon Brown as Prime Minister.

So Labour was understandably jittery about the contest in Glasgow North East, caused by the resignation in June of Michael Martin when he stood down as Commons Speaker and joined the House of Lords. This time, however, there has been little sign of the SNP bandwagon that rolled so strongly last year.

Mr Brown was confident enough of victory to campaign in the contest, in a break with recent tradition. He would probably not have done so had Labour officials privately been predicting defeat. The bookmakers Betfair last night made Labour 1-4 favourites to win the seat, putting the SNP at 4-1 and any other party at 199-1.

The seat, which includes one of Glasgow's most deprived estates, Possil Park, is seen as solid Labour territory. Lord Martin of Springburn, who takes his title from another part of the constituency, had a majority of 10,134 over the SNP at the 2005 election, when there was a 6.6 per cent swing to the SNP. In line with the convention among the three main parties, the Tories and Liberal Democrats did not put up a candidate against the Commons Speaker.

At the European Parliament elections in June, Labour gained 41 per cent of the vote in the constituency, with the SNP on 25 per cent.

Labour officials claim their candidate, William Bain, has outshone the SNP's standard-bearer David Kerr, accusing him of making "gaffes" such as claiming he was born in two different places and not knowing that the level of Jobseeker's Allowance is £64.39 a week. Unemployment is the highest in any Scottish constituency at 12 per cent, well above the national average of 7.9 per cent, and the 17th highest in the UK as a whole.

Mr Bain, a 36-year-old former lift engineer and a payroll clerk who now teaches public law, was joined on the campaign trail by the comedian Eddie Izzard, who said he had a chance encounter with Mr Bain while running a charity marathon in Glasgow during the summer. "I'm very supportive of any Labour Party candidate standing in any election," he said. "It's great that my timing's absolutely perfect playing here in Glasgow. So I can come back and do this properly."

Yesterday, Labour said the poll would be a "referendum on the treatment of Glasgow" by the SNP government in Scotland. It said the budget for the coming year would see a cut in the city's housing budget and a failure to build new schools there.

Mr Kerr, a 35-year-old former BBC journalist who was himself aided by party leader Alex Salmond yesterday, insisted that after 74 years of Labour taking the area for granted, it was time for change. "Voters have seen the success of the last two years of SNP government, and it's time to bring some of that success to Glasgow and to Westminster," he said. "Labour's campaign has been built on smears and scaremongering. It has nothing positive to say about the party's record or ideas for this area." Eileen Baxendale, who is standing for the Liberal Democrats, said: "If people want to wash away years of Labour neglect then they should vote for the Liberal Democrats."