Labour rushes to plug gap left by sudden exit of Wendy Alexander's second top spin doctor

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SCOTTISH Labour leaders moved quickly yesterday to try to lessen the damage caused by the sudden resignation of Wendy Alexander's spokesman.

Matthew Marr became the second Scottish Labour spin doctor to quit in the past few weeks, after he got drunk and became abusive at last week's Politician of the Year Awards.

Two parliamentary researchers, Kezia Dugdale, who works for the Labour MSP Lord Foulkes, and Russell Gunson, who works for fellow MSP Claire Baker, were seconded to Ms Alexander's office last night to replace Mr Marr on a temporary basis before a permanent replacement can be found.

Mr Marr's departure followed the exit of Brian Lironi, who quit after apparently finding it difficult to work for the Scottish Labour leader.

A party spokesman said two new spin doctors would be appointed by the end of the year, in place of Mr Lironi, and it was hoped to replace Mr Marr soon after that.

Mr Marr's position became untenable after the extent of his bad behaviour at the awards ceremony became clear.

He made a loud and abusive remark towards the First Minister as Mr Salmond was collecting his award as Politician of the Year, and then was abusive to others, including cloakroom attendants, later in the evening.

Mr Marr's departure had nothing to do with his working relationship with Ms Alexander, but one former spin doctor said that she had to avoid losing any more staff, otherwise the impression would be created of her being the problem, instead of her officials.

Nick Wood, who was press secretary to former Tory leaders William Hague and Iain Duncan Smith, said: "There are two simple decisions that Wendy Alexander has to make. First, is she prepared to trust somebody to do the job? This means giving them the latitude to do the job as they see fit, letting them do their job - there is no point having a dog and barking yourself.

"Second, she has to employ someone with a track record of dealing with high-level politics."

Mr Wood, who now runs Media Intelligence Partners, a public-relations consultancy, said it was not easy to be a spin doctor and it reflected badly on politicians if they got through a large number.

"Hiring and firing people in rapid succession is never good news for a politician," he said. "It suggests a lack of direction and suggests the problem may be with the politician, not the spin doctors. It's a mistake you can't go on making."

Tony McElroy, Labour's head of communications in Scotland, said: "While Matthew is disappointed by his behaviour, it was out of character, he has made a clear statement on this and is moving on. Alex Salmond has said the matter is closed, and we agree.

"Our public-relations operation is unaffected by this departure, as the two most experienced staff members are remaining in place - myself and Vanessa Ewing - and Labour will be substantially staffing-up its press operation in Scotland in the coming weeks, with two new appointments, one at a senior level."


WENDY Alexander has a fairly poor track record when it comes to spin doctors. Not only has she lost two in the space of a few weeks, but she was also closely associated with two previous advisers who resigned in the early days of devolution.

First, John Rafferty, who was Donald Dewar's press spokesman, quit in 1999 after he suggested that Susan Deacon, the then health minister, had been the subject of death threats - which was untrue.

Then Philip Chalmers, pictured, a policy special adviser, resigned after being found in Glasgow's red-light district with a prostitute in his car.

It was his connections to Ms Alexander and her MP brother, Douglas, that saw him brought into the government, and Ms Alexander was also believed to be instrumental in the hiring of Mr Rafferty.