Lord Fraser, the Scottish Office minister, intervened to undermine Labour's campaign in John Smith's former constituency, saying ministers would look into the claims surrounding the local authority after Labour admitted there was evidence of discrimination in decision-making.
He said he would 'closely study' figures obtained this week by Helen Liddell, the Labour candidate, which, she said, proved allegations that council spending policies were biased.
Conservative party managers said there was not enough evidence to order a formal inquiry into the council under section 211 of the Local Government (Scotland) Act. Frustrated by a lack of proof that the council's so-called 'Mafia' leaders have breached their statutory responsibilities, officials hope Mrs Liddell's admission will encourage dissident Labour councillors to speak out. One senior Tory said: 'Now that Labour have shown the way forward, admitting that all is not well in their rotten borough, the whole scandal could unravel.'
The allegations of nepotism, political corruption, and discrimination, which engulfed the council three years ago, splitting the local Labour party, have dominated the first week of campaigning.
Mrs Liddell, who had dismissed the claims as 'tittle tattle', changed tack after party workers warned Labour supporters were threatening to vote for the Scottish National Party in protest at the scandal. She wrote to the council asking for an explanation of 'disparities' in its expenditure. She called its decision to site prestige projects in Coatbridge, 10 miles east of Glasgow, rather than in neighbouring Airdrie 'unacceptable' and yesterday criticised councillors for not giving 'the people of this constituency the best possible deal'.
The Opposition parties seized on the split between Mrs Liddell and local Labour councillors. Susan Bell, the Conservative candidate, said: 'Helen Liddell and her party have at last confessed. Discrimination exists against the people of Airdrie. The council critics have been vindicated.'
The SNP, who have put the allegations of council impropriety at the centre of their campaign to overturn John Smith's 15,000-vote majority, called on Jim Brooks, the leader of the so-called 'Mafia', to 'fall publicly on his sword . . . for the sake of all the people of Monklands East'. Kay Ullrich, the party's candidate, urged Labour to 'move on from their admission that discrimination exists, to examine well-documented evidence of a 'jobs for the boys' racket'.
Stephen Gallagher, the Liberal Democrat candidate, repeated his call for a public inquiry.
Last night Mrs Liddell declined to comment on Lord Fraser's announcement. A Labour spokeswoman said the Government was 'perfectly entitled' to look into the allegations levelled at the council. 'We will wait to see what the results of any examination are,' she said.Reuse content