- guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 March 2010 14.10 GMT
Labour's executive has upheld a decision to oust the East Lothian MP Anne Moffat and have begun an urgent search for a new candidate to defend the party's 7,600 majority.
The national executive committee endorsed an unusual vote by the East Lothian party on Friday to sack Moffat, the area's MP for nine years, after a long and acrimonious dispute about her performance and style.
The executive, which met this morning, rejected Moffat's appeal and is to draw up an all-female shortlist for the seat within days, with barely seven weeks left before the widely-expected general election date of 6 May.
At least two candidates named locally as being in the running for the seat, including Rachael Robertson, daughter of the former cabinet minister George Robertson, have distanced themselves from the selection process.
Robertson, government affairs director with the drinks giant Diageo, has not been approached about the vacancy, while Pat Gordon, daughter of the local council leader, has told party members she will not stand.
After being voted out by 130 votes to 59 last Friday, Moffat, a former lay president of the union Unison, appealed to the NEC alleging she had been the victim of a concerted and secretive campaign to isolate her and then oust her from the seat.
She claimed that Jack Dromey, the Unite deputy general secretary who was sent to East Lothian to investigate the internal feud in 2008, and Frank Roy, a senior Labour whip in Scotland, had put pressure on her to resign on health grounds or face deselection, three months before a formal complaint against her was made.
She also accused Scottish party officials of failing to tell her about the plans for last week's deselection meeting, and of ignoring her recent ill-health. She said the deselection should have been decided by a postal vote, a measure party officials said was not in the rules.
Senior party officers in East Lothian have repeatedly complained about Moffat's style, accusing her of neglecting her duties as an MP, at one stage making the lowest number of speeches by any MP, failing to attend party meetings and failing to properly represent constituents.
She was involved in the first controversy over the suppression of details about MPs' expenses by the Commons authorities over her £40,000 travel expenses – the highest of any MP – claimed in 2004. Her claims were disclosed after a two-year freedom of information battle in 2007.
Opposition parties are hoping to capitalise on the controversy, which they believe has damaged Labour's chances of retaining the seat at the election.
Labour's majority for the Westminster constituency has been halved since it was held by John Home Robertson, who held both the Holyrood and Westminster East Lothian seats until he resigned as an MP in 2001 to focus on the Scottish parliament. The Holyrood seat of East Lothian is now held by the Scottish Labour leader, Iain Gray.
After today's NEC decision, the Liberal Democrat candidate, Stuart Ritchie, said: "It doesn't matter to the people of East Lothian who the Labour candidate is. Whoever they end up with, Labour is falling apart here, but the Liberal Democrats are in second place and fighting hard.
"In Iain Gray's backyard, the Labour party are weak and discredited, and choosing a new candidate won't change a thing."
Other opposition parties said the affair was proof that Labour's election campaign was being derailed by scandal and infighting. Angus Robertson, the SNP's Westminster leader, said: "Labour is swamped by scandals in London and deselections in Scotland.
"It is only the SNP who are offering local and national champions for Scotland at the general election. Increasingly, the Labour party is in local and national disarray."
David McLetchie MSP, the Scottish Tory general election campaign manager, said: "This is yet more evidence of a party and a government in complete disarray. From trading political contacts for cash, from its biggest donor ruining the Easter holidays for millions through strikes, and now this sorry pantomime, Labour is in meltdown.
"The East Lothian Labour party have well and truly burned their bridges with local people."