Labour optomistic despite final split over 'Monklandsgate': Last-minute by-election poll points to narrow defeat for SNP candidate

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Indy Politics
LABOUR is set to hold John Smith's constituency with a sharply-reduced majority, according to the final opinion poll in the Monklands East by-election campaign.

The ICM Research survey, published yesterday in the Scotsman newspaper, showed Labour up 5 per cent to 50 per cent, with support for the Scottish National Party unchanged at 43 per cent. The Conservatives were up one point at 5 per cent, with the Liberal Democrats on 2 per cent.

Labour welcomed the survey's findings as proof that support for its candidate, Helen Liddell, had risen after she intervened in the controversy surrounding the local Labour council. Long-standing allegations of nepotism, spending bias and political corruption at Monklands District Council have dominated the two-week campaign.

The Scottish National Party has highlighted evidence of council impropriety in an attempt to win over traditional Labour supporters, frustrated at the local authority's record.

Labour, which began by defending councillors, changed tack last week, accusing the ruling Labour group of discriminating against people living in Airdrie, by lavishing spending on the neighbouring town of Coatbridge. Mrs Liddell called for a public inquiry into the council, 'to get to the bottom of all the claims'.

Labour had hoped that Mrs Liddell's intervention would take the heat out of the council dispute, which had dogged Mr Smith. But with just two days to go until polling day, the party was yesterday further embroiled in the 'Monklandsgate' affair.

In a television interview recorded on Monday, Tom Clarke, MP for the neighbouring constituency of Monklands West, appeared to contradict Mrs Liddell's assertion that councillors had discriminated against Airdrie. He described allegations of spending bias and political corruption at the council as 'largely McCarthyite smears, mythology'. The claims would, he said, be 'laughed out of court' in a public inquiry.

But Mrs Liddell yesterday insisted she would 'take on anyone' to ensure that the people of Monklands East received a fair deal.

The nationalists, who insist they can pull off what would be a remarkable victory, seized on evidence of fresh divisions in Labour's campaign. Kay Ullrich, the SNP candidate, said: 'Tom Clarke has finally come out of hiding. He was provost of the council for years. It was probably too much to expect that he would not defend his 'Monklands Mafia' mates.'

Susan Bell, the Conservative candidate, added: 'The credibility, if not the integrity, of the Labour Party is collapsing.'