Labour by-election visits 'kept secret'

LABOUR was accused of running scared yesterday after Gordon Brown distanced himself from the Glasgow East by-election, and it emerged that senior Cabinet ministers have been making unannounced visits to the constituency to avoid the press.

Harriet Harman, the deputy Labour leader, visited the constituency at the end of last week with Des Browne, the joint Defence and Scottish Secretary, but both trips were kept secret.

Instead, the two Cabinet ministers went round the houses with local activists, knocking on doors and talking through problems without any cameras or journalists present.

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Douglas Alexander, the International Development Secretary, also visited the constituency twice last week and both of these visits were unannounced, too.

The same went for David Cairns, from the Scotland Office, and Europe minister Jim Murphy, as well as a succession of whips and junior ministers, all of whom were employed canvassing but whose presence was not flagged up to the press.

A Labour spokesman said this was a deliberate ploy to make sure attention was focused on Margaret Curran, the party candidate, not on senior figures from London. He said: "John Mason (the SNP candidate] is not allowed to speak out in this campaign. Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon speak on his behalf.

"Margaret is more than capable of speaking for herself and does not need others speaking for her. Government ministers have been here to listen to people on the doorsteps."

When asked whether the ministers' visits were kept secret from the press to stop journalists asking embarrassing questions, the spokesman replied: "Government ministers are asked questions constantly. I'm sure you wouldn't have any trouble tracking them down if you needed to."

The Prime Minister, however, is one minister who will not be visiting the constituency. Mr Brown made it clear yesterday that he would not be going to Glasgow East during the campaign. He also refused to get involved in speculation that a defeat next Thursday could cost him his job.

Asked whether he was planning to visit Glasgow East, Mr Brown said: "I have made that clear. It's not the tradition of prime ministers to go to by- elections."

Asked how confident he was that Labour could hold on to Glasgow East, and whether defeat would make his own position untenable, Mr Brown said: "We have got a very good candidate in Glasgow East, Margaret Curran. She is a very experienced local person who is fighting a very good local campaign and she is doing very well."

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Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, said: "First, Labour are so short of activists they are ordering MPs from outwith Scotland to prop up their campaign, now they are too embarrassed to let anyone see them. This is a Labour Party and candidate so embarrassed by its own government it doesn't want anyone in Glasgow East to know they are here.

"Labour are playing hide and seek with the voters."

He added: "People in Glasgow East have the right to expect answers from the Labour Party on the policies that are causing them so much financial pain. If Harriet Harman and Des Browne can turn up, where are Alistair Darling or Gordon Brown?"