Edinburgh Council: Lib Dems' failure to challenge lame-duck Labour despite byelection victory shows politics can be a dirty game – John McLellan

Edinburgh Council’s leader Cammy ‘Calamity’ Day lives to fight another day, kept in position by those seemingly kind Lib Dems after their sweeping win in last week’s Corstorphine/Murrayfield by-election.
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Down to 12 councillors after the resignation of a new councillor for whom collective responsibility was seemingly a surprise, and the daily possibility of another going the same way, Councillor Day is very fortunate indeed still to be able to call himself city leader.

Apart from the demand by one Labour branch for his resignation, Edinburgh now has one of the most madcap administrations in living memory, having lost its budget, while the victorious Lib Dems, whose spending plans Labour was forced to back, are stepping back from a take-over bid despite a much-strengthened position.

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Now the Lib Dems have more councillors than Labour, they would be within their rights to press for more control of the council’s political direction, perhaps filling key committee convenorships like finance, planning or children and families. But instead, they are choosing to let Labour bumble on, and while it is true that group leader Kevin Lang has a senior position at the Law Society of Scotland he can’t be expected to relinquish, other Lib Dem councillors have the capacity to step up into more senior roles if the party really wanted to renegotiate current arrangements.

Lib Dem group leader Kevin Lang and the party's candidate Fiona Bennett after the Corstorphine/Murrayfield byelection result was announcedLib Dem group leader Kevin Lang and the party's candidate Fiona Bennett after the Corstorphine/Murrayfield byelection result was announced
Lib Dem group leader Kevin Lang and the party's candidate Fiona Bennett after the Corstorphine/Murrayfield byelection result was announced

A Lib Dem statement said that “any attempt to change the current administration on Edinburgh Council risks a dangerous power grab by SNP councillors”, and while the biggest group should be expected to attempt a take-over, it can only succeed with Labour councillors’ assistance. Therefore, the problem is not so much power-hungry nationalists as the very unpredictability of Labour’s disparate bunch on whom Councillor Day is relying to keep his battered jalopy on the road.

Although it’s not difficult to see some hard-left Labour councillors wanting to switch support to their real soul-mates in the SNP and Greens, it would still be extraordinary if enough Labour councillors opposed their own man in a vote of no confidence. But it wouldn’t need to come to that for an internal putsch to see Councillor Day replaced by someone more willing to do business with the SNP and Greens, someone who might fondly recall the cosiness of the 2017-22 council.

Whether the Lib Dems have tested the Labour water is unclear, but there is a strong suspicion that being able to support what they like and oppose what they don’t suits them just fine, perhaps because some of them remember becoming the face of every problem, particularly the trams fiasco, when they were in control in 2007-12.

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It all must leave the good people of Corstorphine/Murrayfield somewhat bemused. The main local by-election issue was the abandonment of beleaguered Roseburn traders on the point of bankruptcy because of the council’s cycleway construction work, but despite the overwhelming rejection of the party responsible it is being left in power by the runaway winner.

The ward might have three Lib Dem councillors ─ it was a chastening result for the Conservatives, down to 788 votes from 3819 in the 2017 election ─ but there will be no guarantee of a direct benefit if the priority is to keep the lamest of ducks in position. Pragmatic puppet-masters or cynics? Locally or nationally, politics is a dirty game.

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