Nationalists force Labour on to defensive: Smith's record under attack as by-election enters final phase, writes John Arlidge

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Indy Politics
THE SCOTTISH National Party forced Labour on to the defensive yesterday in the Monklands East by-election campaign by saying John Smith had failed to clear up the scandal surrounding the local Labour council and condemning his likely successor, Tony Blair, for 'dodging the issue'.

With three days to go until polling day, Kay Ullrich, the SNP candidate, stepped up her attack on Monklands District Council by detailing allegations of nepotism and discrimination. Labour, she said, was 'guilty of a massive cover-up'.

Mrs Ullrich ridiculed claims made by Helen Liddell, the Labour candidate, that she would 'take on the council and get to the bottom of the claims'. She said: 'If someone of John Smith's calibre couldn't do it, it is unlikely Helen Liddell could.' Only an SNP victory would force councillors to mend their ways.

The 'Monklandsgate' scandal, which began two years ago when four 'rebel' Labour councillors accused the council leadership of running a 'jobs for the boys racket', has dominated the by- election campaign. The SNP has highlighted the allegations in an attempt to win over traditional Labour voters, who are frustrated at the council's record.

Mrs Ullrich yesterday raised the stakes by calling on Jim Brooks, the leader of the Labour group and Robert Gilson, the Provost, to resign. At the same time, Alex Salmond, the SNP leader, wrote to Tony Blair saying he 'looked forward with interest' to hearing the Labour leadership contender's views on the actions of the local authority.

Mr Blair, on a visit to the Lanarkshire constituency, did not reply, prompting Mr Salmond to accuse him of ducking the issue. He said: 'You would have thought that Labour would have learnt by now that they cannot keep sweeping the allegations under the carpet. Labour have been avoiding this issue for far too long and they will pay the price this Thursday.'

Labour, which underestimated opposition to the council, is backtracking on claims that it will hold the seat. Mrs Liddell, who last week said she would win the election, sounded cautious yesterday. She said: 'The last vote on Thursday night will mean that we can then reflect and see whether or not I have won. I will take nothing for granted. The last man who held this constituency was a very significant MP, a man almost at the peak of his career. It would be arrogance in the extreme for me to assume that I could count on the same level of support.' Margaret Beckett, the acting Labour leader, on a visit yesterday, repeated calls for an inquiry.

1992 election: J Smith (Lab) 22,266 (61.3 per cent); J Wright (SNP) 6,554 (18 per cent); S Walters (Con) 5,830 (16 per cent); P Ross (LD) 1,679 (4.6 per cent). Lab maj 15,712. Electorate 48,391. Turnout 75.1 per cent.

Leading article, page 17

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