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Monday, October 27, 1997 Published at 02:27 GMT

UK: Politics

Labour defends Paisley South amid allegations of 'sleaze'

On July 28 1997, Gordon McMaster, Labour MP for Paisley South since 1990 was found dead in the garage of his constituency home in Johnstone where he appeared to have taken his own life. It soon emerged that in a suicide note, which has not been published, Mr McMaster named two Labour colleagues whom he said had harassed him in a "whispering campaign".

They were Tommy Graham, the Labour MP for Renfrewshire West, and Lord (Don) Dixon, a Labour peer and former MP and deputy chief whip.

It was alleged that the two had been spreading rumours about Mr McMaster's sexuality and the possibility that he had Aids. Mr McMaster, 37, had been suffering from depression and ME for some time. Mr Graham and Lord Dixon hit back at the allegations with Mr Graham saying that Mr McMaster had had a drink problem, and Lord Dixon saying that he had not recommended the backbencher for promotion because he was not up to doing a senior job.

There have also been reports of financial irregularities and factional in-fighting within constituency Labour parties in the area and there was a long running feud between Irene Adams, MP for Paisley North, and Mr McMaster on one side, and Tommy Graham on the other. It has been claimed that Mr Graham organised mass payments for new members to try to deselect the sitting MPs, and put his own supporters in their place.

These alleged irregularities have been linked to another scandal in the area. In 1995, Mrs Adams claimed that criminals had tried to infiltrate her local Labour party and that a security firm, funded by the local council, was being used to launder drug money. The firm, Ferguslie Park Community Business Security (FCB) had as its directors two Labour councillors, Harry Revie and Olga Clayton, and another Labour activist, John McIntyre. The company collapsed last year and is currently the subject of a police investigation. Both Mr McMaster and Mrs Adams had campaigned against drug gangs in the area.

The local Labour Party was then investigated by Leslie Quinn, a Scottish Labour organiser. The investigation ended in a restructuring of the local party, suspensions and expulsions. As a result of that inquiry, it was argued, the local party was in proper shape, but the subsequent death of Mr McMaster seemed to indicate otherwise.

Another strand to the story involves the extremely poor relationship between the ruling Labour group on Renfrewshire District Council and the Scottish National Party members, which has led to physical violence on occasions. The SNP suspended one of its councillors, whose name was linked by the Scotland on Sunday newspaper to rumours that had been circulating about Mr McMaster since his death two weeks earlier.

As a result of Mr McMaster's death, two separate investigations are being conducted by the Labour Party. Tommy Graham, whose membership of the party has been suspended, is being investigated by the Parliamentary Labour Party, while the National Executive Committee is looking into allegations of corruption, bullying, and membership irregularities in Renfrewshire. It is not yet known if either of these investigations will be completed by the time of the Novermber 6 by-election.

As in other recent by-elections (notably Uxbridge), the Labour party's policy of centrally controlling the shortlist of candidates has irritated local party members. Douglas Alexander, a close associate of Chancellor Gordon Brown, was chosen from two contenders to defend the seat. His main opponent will be Scottish Nationalist Ian Blackford, while the Tories will put up former policewoman Sheila Laidlaw. Eileen McCartin will represent the Liberal Democrats.

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