Labour’s expenses pain hits Luton South battle

By Alex Stevenson

Labour’s local candidate for the crucial Luton South campaign has admitted Margaret Moran’s expenses disgrace has hurt his chances of holding the seat.

Ms Moran was suspended from the Labour party after it emerged last year she claimed over £20,000 for treating dry rot on a home in Southampton nearly 100 miles from her constituency.

Luton South is 140th on the Conservative target list, meaning it is exactly the kind of seat David Cameron must win if he is to form a government after the election. Labour candidate Gavin Shuker told many people in the constituency were “very angry” about Ms Moran’s behaviour.

He said Labour campaigners were not finding many ‘switchers’ – voters changing allegiance because of the issue.

But he added: “The key issue is does it hurt Labour’s chances on election day? I think it does to some degree. It’s such a tight race here. But ultimately, when we go out on the doorsteps we’re equally able to distinguish between the party and the candidate.”

Mr Shuker said he had “significant pressure” from within the local party to condemn Ms Moran immediately after the news of her actions broke.

He said he viewed her behaviour as “indefensible” and insisted the Labour party had done all it could to act quickly against Ms Moran.

“People are undecided about which way they’re going to go. It underlines it’s a very tight race,” Mr Shuker added.

“This is probably one of the most exciting, high profile and unpredictable races in the country… We’re going to do everything we can to make sure our vote comes out and we win round people who are wavering on the doorsteps.”

Unlike Conservative candidate Nigel Huddleston, who lives in nearby Wheathampsted, church worker Mr Shuker is a local man who went to the local comprehensive and returned to work in Luton after graduating from Cambridge University.

In a thinly-veiled attack on his Tory rival, he said the “killer” when it came to restoring trust in politicians in Luton was whether the candidates lived in the seat.

“I like my opponents in this race, they’re good people,” Mr Shuker said.

“But if you’re not willing to actually live here… how on earth are we going to do that task of restoring faith in politics?”

Ms Moran achieved a 5,650 majority in the 2005 election.