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MINISTER AND THE MINNOW; Mr Nobody tries to drag high-flying Labour MP Helen back into the petty politics of the past.

She is the high-flying Labour MP with a direct line to No 10, widely- tipped for promotion in the next Cabinet re-shuffle.

He is the small-time party activist whose bitterness threatens to wreck her glittering political career.

Last night, Treasury Minister Helen Liddell said she was the victim of a grudge.

And as fraud squad officers began an inquiry into expenses returns for last year's General Election, the Airdrie and Shotts MP hit out at the claims made by Pat Moran.

Just before flying to Brussels for a crucial European finance meeting, she said resignedly: "You always come across people with grudges in politics."

Her path first crossed Moran's in what used to be known as Monklands, the name given to the old council that became a byword for local government sleaze.

Moran is from Shotts, and made no secret of the fact that he never wanted the small Lanark- shire town to be linked to Liddell's power base in Airdrie when constituency boundaries altered.

He even gave evidence to the Boundaries Commission against the former Labour leader John Smith, then the local MP.

But then, Lanarkshire politics have always been incestuous, bloody and red raw.

As a local woman, Liddell is only too well aware of just how deep feelings can run.

She cut her political teeth as a teenager going round Labour meetings with her bus- driver father, learning her politics in one of Scotland's toughest schools.

She knew that even an imagined snub could within days become a personal feud that would be nourished for a lifetime.

Now it seems she has fallen victim to just such a vendetta.

Moran has made allegations that Liddell's expenses returns do not match those in the constituency party's books.

Both she and her election agent, Karen Turnbull, are expected to be interviewed about the claims.

But Liddel said she was confident that the police inquiry would be resolved "very quickly".

The Airdrie and Shotts MP said: "I have total confidence in the integrity and competence of my election agent."

Another senior Labour official leapt to her defence, dismissing the complaint as "the ravings of a disaffected man who clearly has an axe to grind".

Motherwell and Wishaw MP Frank Roy, who was Liddell's assistant for three years, said:

"Helen Liddell and Karen Turnbull are people of the utmost integrity and have my total support.

"It is disgraceful that someone making an allegation such as this can use the police this way. But if a complaint is made to them they have to investigate it, and I understand that."

One source close to Cleland Labour Party, where Moran has been a member for 16 years, said: "These allegations are poison.

"All this is doing is dragging the name of a first-class MP through the mud. People are sick and tired of Moran's antics."

Moran himself is unrepentant. He says he only went to the police after the Labour Party failed to take notice of his complaint.

He claims he wrote to Scottish general secretary Jack McConnell and general secretary in London, Tom Sawyer, on the issue - though the party denies this.

Moran said: "I regret the way this has come to public attention, but I have no regrets about what I did.

"People may say this is sour grapes, but that is just a case of the party closing ranks."

Even though they are nominally on the same side, it is hard to imagine the two main players in the row being much further apart.

In the New Labour corner is Liddell, a gritty visionary with the ear of the Prime Minister and the political ball firmly at her feet.

Her opponent is the classic Old Labour official, working his way up through the trade union and party ranks to become treasurer of Liddell's constituency party.

Liddell was indirectly behind Moran's removal when she complained about his behaviour at a Labour Party fund-raising dance.

As a result, he lost the backing of his union as a delegate to the constituency Labour Party. In turn, that resulted in him being ousted as treasurer.

But Labour insiders believe that Moran is not simply a disaffected activist acting on his own.

They think he is being used by a disgruntled element from the former "Monklands Mafia" to settle old scores.

And when Liddell called for a public inquiry into the local council during the Monklands East by- election, she knew she could be storing up trouble for the future.

The political battle following the death of John Smith was one of the most bitterly- fought in recent years in Scotland.

Even a forum organised by local churches turned into such a verbal bloodbath that the minister who organised it said: "We opened in prayer but appear to have ended in Babel."

Throughout the campaign and the "Monklandsgate" inquiry that followed, journalists were inundated with anonymous tip-offs recounting misdeeds by various Labour members.

And that tradition is alive and well even today.

An anonymous letter to the Record - posted hours after the first tip- off that a complaint had been made against Liddell - contains a number of claims.

One is that party auditor Tom McFarlane shared Moran's concern over the expenses and had refused to endorse the accounts.

But MacFarlane said: "This is not true. I presented the accounts and signed the ledgers. Any claims that I was concerned about money being missing are untrue.

"I don't know what is going on - but I see the involvement of a neighbouring constituency.

"There are some people there who still have raw, open wounds and would love to cause trouble."

Liddell and the Labour Party are said to be "relaxed" about the complaint and are confident the matter will be cleared up.

But Moran remains adamant - and he is a man whose personal determination knows no bounds.

During the row over the boundary changes, he even sided with the TORIES against John Smith at a hearing in Glasgow.

At another meeting he blew up, throwing his papers in the face of party organiser Lesley Quinn and saying: "You can stuff that, hen."

Private scores and public rows would seem to be a tradition in Lanarkshire politics - and a tradition that is not yet dead.
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Author:King, Dave
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:May 2, 1998
Words:1037
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