David Maddox: Corbyn’s appointment of Katy Clark is significant

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn protesting against football ticket prices at Arseanal's stadium. Picture: PA
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn protesting against football ticket prices at Arseanal's stadium. Picture: PA
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Barely a day goes by without new evidence of the way Jeremy Corbyn’s victory as party leader has completely turned the Labour Party upside down.

Labour’s topsy-turvy world is highlighted by the bizarre situation where Mr Corbyn’s key adviser Andrew Fisher has been suspended by the party for supporting a Trotskyite rival to the official Labour candidate, and the continuing chaos surrounding Labour’s defence policy. It appears that UK Labour has a policy supporting the Trident nuclear deterrent which its leader profoundly disagrees with, while Scottish Labour has a policy opposing Trident with which its leader, Kezia Dugdale, profoundly disagrees.

Within this mess and arguments over whether Mr Corbyn is bowing properly or singing the national anthem, he has made an interesting appointment as his political secretary in former Arran and North Ayrshire MP Katy Clark.

For keen observers of Scottish politics, Ms Clark’s appearance in the Corbyn team is not the greatest surprise but it shows that those previously locked out in the fringes of the party are now running the show. Ms Clark, one of the leading left-wingers, rarely missed an opportunity to attack the Blairite and centrist tendencies of more recent leaders. Like Mr Corbyn, she was a fully paid up member of the awkward squad and a serial rebel. Ironically, she also used to complain about the influence of unelected special advisers. Now she is one.

But the appointment does raise interesting questions about who is running Scottish policy. It is understood that a week into her job, Ms Clark has already “expressed strong views” on Scottish matters and tried to “water down” previously agreed lines pushed by shadow Scottish secretary and sole Scottish Labour MP Ian Murray.

The former MP stood as deputy leader against Ms Dugdale at the end of last year on a joint ticket with the MSP Neil Findlay when he ran against Jim Murphy. Both then were key figures in the Corbyn leadership campaign which has has left Mr Findlay as arguably the most influential Scottish Labour figure and Ms Clark as one of the chief advisers to the UK leader.

On the positive side, having a Scot at the heart of the UK Labour leadership underlines that they are taking Scotland seriously. However, it has been suggested that it could be “a mixed blessing” for the current official Scottish leadership.

At the moment Ms Dugdale and Mr Murray at least appear to have been given the space and time to run the show in the way they deem best. As centrists, pragmatists and part of the new generation, they are almost certainly the best bet for the party to recover in Scotland in the long term, but time may be a luxury they do not have.

If things go badly wrong in May next year – and despite the recent SNP farce over the tax credits debate it does not look good for Labour – then others will start to exert far greater influence.

Heading that list are likely be Mr Findlay in Scotland and Ms Clark by the UK Labour leader’s side, both of whom will be pushing for a far more radical left-wing agenda. It is possible that a far left agenda is what Labour needs for a revival in Scotland, but whenever attitudes are measured north of the Border they rarely come out very differently to Conservative-voting parts of England.

At the moment what is left of a damaged and bruised party seems to be happy to work together under the new leadership north and south of the Border, at least as far Scotland is concerned.

However, experience suggests that if there is a party which could create a feud in an empty room it is Labour, and perhaps that is just a matter of time.