Monklands East Poll: Labour campaign in disarray as MP criticises candidate: Last day of fierce electioneering sees war of words intensify

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LABOUR'S campaign in the Monklands East by-election virtually collapsed last night on the eve of today's poll after a second Labour MP publicly criticised the party's candidate.

Jimmy Wray, chairman of the Scottish parliamentary Labour group, joined Tom Clarke, the MP for Monklands West, in condemning Helen Liddell. He said her decision to attack Labour leaders of the scandal-ridden Monklands District Council was 'foolish' and could result in legal action.

Long-standing allegations of nepotism, discrimination and political corruption levelled at Monklands council have dominated campaigning in the Lanarkshire seat.

Mrs Liddell, who began by dismissing the claims as 'tittle tattle', changed tack after party workers warned that traditional Labour supporters, furious at the council's performance, were deserting the party over the issue. Last week she took on the council, publicly accusing the ruling Labour group of discrimination in spending policies. She called for a public inquiry 'to get to the bottom of all the allegations'.

Her comments infuriated Labour councillors and angered Mr Clarke. In a television interview he described allegations of spending bias as 'largely McCarthyite smears, mythology'. Yesterday Mr Wray added his voice to the criticism saying that Mr Clarke was right to defend the council and his constituency. He described Mrs Liddell's comments as 'open for a writ'.

Mr Wray was summoned to Labour's campaign headquarters in Airdrie for a meeting with George Robertson, the the party's Scottish spokesman. After the meeting Mr Wray retracted his earlier comments saying that Mrs Liddell was right to accuse councillors of discrimination and pledged his full support for her.

The Scottish National Party seized on the disarray in the Labour camp.

Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, said: 'Labour have been blown out of the water. They have lost all trust and credibility. Wray's comments show that a Labour victory would change nothing for the people of Monklands. Only an SNP victory would be the power for change, sending Labour's Monklands house of cards tumbling down and lifting the cloud over the constituency.'

Privately some Labour MPs said that Mr Wray's intervention would cost the party John Smith's seat.

(Photograph omitted)