If you click on the tweet and picture opposite, at first glance you’ll see cheery local Scottish campaigners working away for Ian Murray, Labour’s candidate in Edinburgh South.
Actually, though, you’re looking at a picture the recent ex-Daily Mail man who’s presently serving as Scottish Labour’s spin doctor has taken of himself.
By putting himself in the frame like this, really unheard of for a spin person, and then ensuring the candidate tweets the picture, Roden has conveyed the impression that local volunteers in Scottish Labour’s only target seat are so thin on the ground that in order to create an illusion of activity he’s had to manufacture an image with himself in it.
In truth, it’s perfectly possible that there are plenty of local Labour folk volunteering in Edinburgh South. Perhaps the other two nice-looking folk are examples (see postscript). But if this is so, why would Roden sabotage his own colleagues and candidate in this way?
Like his predecessor Paul Sinclair, who uses his Mail column to attack the Labour Party, there’s every possibility that after the election Roden will return to his old trade with a bunch of stories in his notebook about how he was at the centre of a disastrous campaign. This professionally-composed selfie is his ‘action-shot’ evidence – well up to the standard required for a centre-piece spread.
Roden’s public pronouncements have all been precisely in line with Mail editorial policy. During the election, he’s never criticised Tory policies. Instead, his target has always been the SNP. Any references to the Tories are knock-about, generalised, fun. So while there are good reasons for Labour folk to think Roden represents an enemy within, there are no hostages to fortune which might make his re-hiring by the Mail, or other Tory publication, difficult.
Ian Murray himself was one of the best of a strong 2010 intake of young Labour MPs. He was the surprise survivor when some genuinely talented and decent young folk bit the dust. His greatest strength in his constituency campaign – winning it is Labour’s only objective at this election – is that many relatively un-politicised local people rightly see him as a hard-working and personable MP.
Murray faces tough competition from strong candidates put up by the Tories and the SNP. But rather than ask ‘soft’ independence supporters to keep a demonstrably decent MP in place, his campaign advisers have pitched his campaign the opposite way. They’ve chosen to attack independence as their central message and hinted that in return for Tories voting ‘unionist’ in Edinburgh South, some Labour voters might tactically unionist in a number of other marginal constituencies.
If such an outcome were to occur – Labour gets a Scottish seat and the Tories get half a dozen – it would of course harm Labour by increasing the Tories’ lead over them in this UK general election.
Two things are clear to even the most casual of observers. First, the Tories are very much in the game in Edinburgh South and Scottish Labour’s claim that they are not is implausible. Second, Alan Roden is pushing Labour along a path which if successful can only help the pro-Tory party Daily Mail campaign at Labour’s expense.
Labour politicians, activists and supporters – there’s still time to ditch the enemy within. And if you can’t do that, for goodness sake at least make sure you keep out of his selfies and notebook.
Postscript: The other guy in the pic works for Roden in the Scottish Labour press team. He’s another journo and self-describes as ‘a part-time author’. It’s pretty depressing, frankly. We’re only left to wonder if the woman in the picture is a pretend volunteer too, which is a shame for her if she’s a real one. (Hat tip @Jessiealba7)