The cracks in Labour’s already strained show of public unity grow wider by the day. The party’s long simmering internal guerrilla warfare again showed signs of breaking into the public view last night as Labour MPs revealed their unhappiness with Iain Gray’s performance in the Holyrood election campaign and expressed doubts about his suitability as leader. The Westminster MPs spoke anonymously to friendly reporters from the mainstream Scottish media as realisation grew amongst party leaders and their media allies that the SNP was overtaking Labour in the opinion polls.
The Labour party privately acknowledges that Gray is no match for Alex Salmond and is weak and ineffectual compared to the formidable SNP leader. Speaking to a reporter from the Scotsman, one Scottish Labour MP is quoted as saying: “[Gray] is coming over as angry and I’m not sure if that’s the right thing. Salmond is coming over as reasonable, saying ‘I’ll work with anyone for the benefit of Scotland.’ That’s hard to tackle and Iain Gray doesn’t seem to have approached it in the right way. He is not a big hitter and whatever you think of Salmond, he is.”
Other MPs expressed their worries that Gray failed to make any positive impact in his performance in the STV leaders’ debate broadcast on Tuesday, telling the Scotsman that he came across poorly. MPs admitted that the party is struggling to get its message across to the voting public, which is increasingly alienated by Labour’s reputation for sleaze, mismanagement and opportunism.
Several MPs said they were “very worried”, with one saying: “I’m not sure if we have got the strategy right. We’re struggling to get the message over.”
In an unintentionally revealing indictment of Labour’s deprecation of the Scottish Parliament as he attempted to account for the lack of ability amongst Labour MSPs, one MP told the Scotsman: “All the talented people want to come to Westminster.”
The MPs claimed that Ed Miliband and the party’s London leadership were so concerned about Gray’s shortcomings that the party hierarchy sent Miliband’s press officer Kenny Young to “keep an eye on” the campaign and report back on Gray’s leadership role. The ‘talents’ of the envoy from London seem equally suspect. According to reports in the blogosphere, Kenny Young became known as Calamity Kenny after his role in handling the press management of the less than successful visit of Gordon Brown to Rochdale during the 2010 election campaign, when he encountered the famous Mrs Duffy.
The new criticisms of Gray from within his own party are merely the most recent in a series of off the record attacks on the uncharismatic Labour group leader. It was alleged that Wendy Alexander resigned due to her unhappiness with Gray’s preference for Andy Kerr for the post of Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance and Sustainable Growth. The resignation prompted some within the party to speak, again off the record, to friendly media sources about their ‘concerns’ that Gray was being led astray by ‘immature influences’, thought by many to be a reference to the power struggles within the party between West Coast MSPs and East Coast MSPs.
Gray has strongly denied that there are any divisions within the party, and insisted that the party was united behind him. According to Gray, accounts of criticisms from his own party’s Westminster team are “nonsense”.