Page last updated at 00:48 GMT, Saturday, 27 March 2010

Labour eyes 'fightback' gathering

By Andrew Black
Political reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Gordon brown
Labour's election campaign will focus on economic recovery

Take a glance at the guide for Scottish Labour's spring conference and you are immediately confronted with practically more introductions than you can shake a stick at.

First up is an introduction by Gordon Brown, who claims the imminent election is a two-horse race between Labour and the Conservatives and writes that his rivals will threaten an age of austerity, "a change you can't afford".

Next is Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray, who claims that, come polling day, Scots have to make a choice, "between Gordon Brown and David Cameron and the choice couldn't be more serious", adding: "Scotland cannot afford another Tory government that slashes public services and takes from the many to give to the few."

He is followed by Jim Murphy, the Scottish secretary, who described the election as, "a straight choice between Labour and Tory". You get the picture.

And then there's the message from the Scottish Labour Party's general secretary, Colin Smyth, who appeals for help from supporters to aid Labour's campaign to win the UK election, which he calls "Operation Fightback".

There is only one real topic on the agenda here - the fragile economy and how to sustain it

Fightback - perhaps a strange term for the party currently in power to be using - but it says a lot about the pressure Labour feels under to deliver on a historic fourth term in government.

And, as the introductory remarks indicate, there is only one real topic on the agenda here - the fragile economy and how to sustain it.

In the wake of one of the worst recessions in modern times, Labour says it has taken action to shore up the economy and save the banking industry, while the Tories say that, in its 13 years in power, Labour has presided over the kind of boom and bust cycle it claimed to have ended.

Jim Murphy, not usually one to mince his words, says that, six months ago, people were talking about the certainty of a Tory victory - now, he says, Labour's back in the game.

But the party has still been forced to deal with a few recent problems - such as the lobbying scandal involving ex-Labour ministers Geoff Hoon, Stephen Byers and Patricia Hewitt - and, in Scotland, the bitter internal row over the de-selection of the party's MP in East Lothian, Anne Moffat, as a candidate.

There have also been questions from the SNP over Labour's running of Glasgow City Council, in the wake of leader Steven Purcell's resignation on health grounds.

Hung parliament

But there have been successes. Following Labour's defeat in the Glasgow East Westminster by-election by the SNP, the party came back by holding Glenrothes and winning Glasgow North East, despite that being the seat controversially vacated by former Commons Speaker Michael Martin.

And, of course, the added Scottish dimension is the SNP.

Should Labour win the UK election, they'll still be in opposition at Holyrood, although the party says its been holding the minority Scottish government to account over its so-called "broken manifesto promises".

The SNP, which wants to up its tally of SNP MPs from seven to 20, says in response that Labour and the Tories are one in the same - they both want to introduce serious public spending cuts which could jeopardise Scotland's economic recovery.

In fact, Scottish Labour even says its ready to win the next Holyrood election - but there's that UK one to worry about first.

Remember that, because of the maths, it may be much easier for Labour to lose its overall majority in parliament than for the Tories to win one outright.

That could produce the ultimate political headache of a hung parliament, and the possibility of a power-sharing deal.

To use that old political line, Labour say - the fightback starts here.



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