Lamont leadership disintegrating as Labour party infighting exposes Scottish tensions

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  By G.A.Ponsonby

Scottish Labour Leader Johann Lamont has been accused of presiding over a shambles as her party is embroiled in bitter infighting north of the border.

Reports in the Sunday Herald have revealed that one of Labour’s top spin doctors in Scotland has been suspended in what is being described as a turf war between London and Edinburgh.

According to the newspaper, Rami Okasha, Labour’s head of strategy, communications and policy, is facing disciplinary proceedings over alleged “insubordination”.  Okasha, former aide to Labour MP Jim Murphy, was suspended earlier this month following what the Sunday Herald describes as “a turf war and blurred accountability”.

Okasha was part of a group based at John Smith House who are accountable to the London based branch of Labour.  According to a source cited by the Herald, Scottish Labour MSPs were considered lower in the pecking order to MPs and councillors in Glasgow.

The suspension of Okasha follows frustration felt by Labour at Holyrood, which is led by Johann Lamont, her spin doctor Paul Sinclair and party business manager Paul Martin.  Lamont was declared leader of the entire Scottish party after a review of Labour’s performance following the disastrous Scottish Parliamentary elections.

As leader, she is supposed to preside over Scottish MEPs, MPs, MSPs and councillors.  However recent silence from the Glasgow Pollok MSP has led to claims from opponents that she is in fact a leader on paper only and London still calls the shots.

Responding to reports of infighting, SNP MSP John Wilson said:

“The revelation that one of Labour’s top spin doctors in Scotland has been suspended further highlights the turf war between the party MSPs and their increasing differences with the Westminster group of MPs.

“It’s been a year since the Labour review of the party’s operations and structure yet they are more of a shambles now than the calamity of its election campaign last year.  It’s not just a lack of leadership it’s a lack of ideas and a complete lack of policy.

“Johann Lamont is supposed to be in control of all of Labour in Scotland – but clearly she’s been presiding over a shambolic party that is simmering with tension.

“instead of fixing their problems and putting together a positive vision Labour has been busy linking arms with the Tories and letting the people of Scotland down.”

“It is clear from this most recent report that the Labour party in Scotland is unable to be true to its own values so long as it has to continually adhere to the London line.

“The truth is the Labour party, within an independent Scotland, will be allowed to flourish without fear of contradicting London colleagues.”

Okasha is no stranger to controversy.  In 2008 he jokingly threatened to have members of the press shot if they came too close to former Labour party leader Gordon Brown and his wife Sarah.

However, perhaps the biggest controversy and one that was suppressed by the entire Scottish media was the email sent by Rami Okasha to at least three high profile Scottish journalists that sought to smear a member of the public, David Ferguson, who was pursuing a Freedom of Information request relating to the resignation of former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander.

In July 2010, the former advisor to Labour MP Jim Murphy circulated an email to a number of senior Scottish mainstream political journalists.

It was sent from Mr Okasha’s official Labour Party email address and was footnoted with the words: “Sent by email from the Labour Party, promoted by Ray Collins on behalf of The Labour Party, both at 39 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0HA”.

The email contained false allegations against Mr Ferguson and described him as a “hard core cyber-nat”.

The email also contained allegations against both Mr Ferguson and the SNP by Labour MP Willie Bain who claimed Mr Ferguson was part of a deliberate SNP “Black-Ops campaign” aimed at smearing people from “other parties”.

However, worse was a Facebook site alleged by Okasha to belong to Mr Ferguson, which turned out to belong to someone else with the same name.

To date, despite Mr Okasha and Mr Bain’s senior positions within Labour, the story has never been reported by any of Scotland’s main stream media outlets.

MEANWHILE Labour’s woes continued this weekend after comments from UK leader Ed Miliband in which he praised the legacy of former UK PM Margaret Thatcher.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Mr Miliband said: “what she [Margaret Thatcher] was talking about struck a chord”.  The Labour leader admitted that Labour had gone too far and conceded the “depth of change” his party now needs.

It follows previous comments when he admitted there are sometimes no differences between Labour and the Tories.  Speaking in September 2009, Mr Miliband said: “On a number of things, there are differences between us and the Tories, but on certain areas there are no differences between us, and I don’t think you should make them up.

“People don’t like pretending there are big differences when there aren’t”