Shady past of Labour’s ‘colourful’ new hopeful


A Labour politician who was involved in the abuse of public funds, wanted to legalise brothels in England, and was sacked from his last job, is standing for Labour in the Holyrood elections.

Mick Rice was part of a hard-left ruling cabal in Birmingham until he was voted out following lurid revelations about his private life and claims of “hypocrisy” over his £40,000-a-year council post.

Described as a “very colourful character” by former colleagues, the lifelong trade unionist is now a Scottish Parliament candidate for Labour in Argyll and Bute.

He is a key figure in the Scottish Labour campaign and has been photographed with party leader Iain Gray and Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander.

But opponents last night questioned whether party leadership knew of his controversial history before he was selected.

His main rivals for the seat, which is currently held by the SNP, are Nationalist Mike Russell, Lib Dem Alison Hay and Tory Jamie McGrigor.

In 1995 Mr Rice was first embroiled in controversy when an internal review by Birmingham Council auditors found he had been using public money to campaign for the Labour Party. He was secretary and chairman of a politically independent trade union centre that received almost £1million in grants, some of which were channelled to a Labour-supporting group.

Five years later he was widely criticised after calling for England’s first legalised brothel to be set up in a warehouse by the Aston Expressway. Among those who condemned his idea were then Home Secretary Jack Straw and West Midlands Police.

Then in 2002 it emerged the father-of-five was having an affair with a fellow Labour councillor. Mr Rice and married Susanna McCorry had been trying to keep their relationship secret by meeting for love trysts at a gay bar in Birmingham.

After the news broke, he left his partner and mother to his two-year-old twins to go on two romantic holidays in Scotland and France, neglecting his council duties.

Another French break the following year caused yet more outrage, as Mrs McCorry’s social services department was engulfed in a major scandal following the deaths of two children. Mr Rice also faced calls to resign after he condemned a “shabby power sharing deal” between Labour and the Conservatives – that saw him retain his own £40,000 a year post on the city’s cabinet.

In 2004 the voters of Sparkbrook – an inner city area dubbed The Balti Belt – booted him out after 21 years as a councillor.

Mr Rice was then sacked from his next job as head of Birmingham Association of Neighbourhood Forums after just 12 months – but refused to leave his desk. Police were called in before his “work in” finally ended after four days. He was later reinstated but sacked again in 2007, claiming he had been “punished for speaking out” against the city’s Tory mayor.

Mr Rice and Mrs McCorry, who are now married, moved to Scotland in 2007 to run the Duncreggan House guest house near Dunoon, Argyll.

Lib Dem MP John Hemming, who was a councillor alongside Mr Rice for a number of years, said his former rival was “a nice enough bloke”. He added: “He is one of those generally good people who mean well even if he gets it wrong from time to time”.

Tory  Peter Hollingworth, Birmingham’s longest serving councillor, added: “He’s a colourful character and I wish him well, especially if he can send me a bottle of whisky.”

However, his Scottish political rivals were not as understanding.

A spokeswoman for the SNP said: “His personal life is his own but Labour must be clear if they were aware of his actions in office when they supported him for this seat.”

Scottish Labour hit back that Mr Rice had never been found guilty of misconduct.

Mr Rice himself said: “I served as councillor for many years and was never even reported to the standards board. The claim that I used public money to campaign for any political party is absolute nonsense.

“Although my first marriage sadly broke down, my new wife and I are happily married. After I left the council, the new administration awarded me the status of Honorary Alderman for my services to the council – and I am very proud that nobody voted against it.”