Has an ‘unholy’ Tory-SNP deal hobbled Labour’s Scottish by-election hopes?

Katie Neame
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor
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Keir Starmer will visit Margaret Ferrier’s constituency today as Labour continues its love-bombing offensive ahead of an expected by-election. Speaking ahead of the visit, the Labour leader accused Ferrier – who earlier this week lost her appeal against a Commons suspension over Covid rule-breaking – of being “missing in action”, declaring: “The people of this area are crying out for change and for a new politics that offers hope, partners with their ambition for their area, and focuses on their priorities. Only Labour can deliver the fresh start that Rutherglen and Hamilton West needs.”

The potential by-election in Ferrier’s seat – the result of which will be a key indicator of the extent of Labour’s resurgence in Scotland amid the turmoil within the SNP – faced an early delay yesterday when a vote by MPs on Ferrier’s suspension was postponed. Government sources told the Guardian that the vote had to take place when a sufficient quorum of MPs were present and had therefore been rescheduled for after recess, which begins today.

But Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray claimed that the delay was a result of a “grubby backroom deal between Ferrier, nationalists and some Tories, who don’t want Boris Johnson to suffer the same fate”, adding: “This is an unholy alliance and total incompetence designed to defer democracy and give the Tories and the SNP a stay of execution at the ballot box.” Commons standards committee chair and Labour MP Chris Bryant – whose committee made the recommendation that Ferrier should receive a 30-day suspension – made similar allegations, telling the Guardian: “The government apparently suddenly heard that Boris Johnson supporters were going to vote down the motion. So they suddenly pulled it.”

Johnson’s supporters were reportedly concerned following the announcement of the committee’s recommended sanction for Ferrier, given the ongoing investigation by the privileges committee into whether the former Prime Minister misled parliament over ‘partygate’. A suspension of ten or more days automatically triggers a recall petition, which if signed by 10% of constituents leads to a by-election. MPs were expected to back the recommended suspension for Ferrier, likely deepening concerns among Johnson’s allies about his potential fate. With some current polling suggesting Labour would overturn Johnson’s 7,000-odd majority in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, it is no wonder that those closest to him are feeling uneasy.

On LabourList this week, we’ve had pieces from shadow employment minister Alison McGovern and backbencher Mick Whitley, who are going head to head for selection in the new Birkenhead seat, as boundary changes will see McGovern’s seat scrapped. The contest was given a dramatic early twist when fellow Wirral MP Margaret Greenwood announced she was standing down – after McGovern confirmed her intention to stand against Whitley, the current Birkenhead MP. And the timing of Greenwood’s announcement becomes all the more interesting now that the Wirral West MP has publicly endorsed Whitley… Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.

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