Abandon hope all ye who enter here.
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Political realist ready for battle ahead
By CATHERINE MacLEODDONALD Dewar has had to wait 14 months to welcome Helen Liddell into the Scottish Office. He wanted her by his side in the first line-up after the General Election but the Prime Minister had other plans.
Now Tony Blair has sent her back to Scotland. She will be Donald Dewar's No 2 in the Scottish Office. Her official title will be Deputy Scottish Secretary. Crucially, she will also take over as communications co-ordinator for the Scottish parliamentary elections with the brief of fending off the SNP.
That was the offer. That Henry McLeish already considered himself to be Dewar's deputy, and the obvious communications co-ordinator, was not an issue. Mr Dewar and Gordon Brown, who is masterminding Labour's campaign in Scotland, wanted Helen Liddell.
Mr Dewar respects her ability. Their political friendship goes back 20 years and he believes she is tough enough to survive the bearpit of Scottish politics. He describes her as "one of his closest friends". She reciprocates by saying she is looking forward to working with him.
They are certainly close. She once let him rummage through her dirty washing to find her maiden speech from the dispatch box when she realised she had mislaid it - only seconds before she was due to deliver it. Mr Dewar did not find it. It was a testimony to Mrs Liddell that nobody who watched her performance would have guessed.
What neither she nor Mr Dewar will concede publicly is that she had to be dragged back to Scotland. After a successful year at the Treasury as Economics Secretary, with high-profile successes on pensions mis-selling to her credit, she was not keen to return to the Scottish political fray. Officials were open in their admiration of her performance, and viewed her as a likely future Chief Secretary.
She resisted the move to the last, and her appointment was not confirmed until yesterday. But if nothing else, she is a political realist who knows that if the Prime Minister tells you to go, you have to go.
For the last year, the MP for Airdrie and Shotts has glad-handed her way around the circuit of European capitals. She sat in the British chair during the European Presidency, and played a role in the European summit that launched the single currency in May. Earlier this year, she accompanied the Prime Minister on a high-profile visit to Washington and sat at his side in one of a series of seminars with Bill Clinton and his top officials on the future of British and American politics.
Back at the Treasury, she was credited with revamping backwaters neglected by the Tories. She urged the banks to work more closely with credit unions. One Treasury official said: "The Tories didn't care about credit unions. Helen does because she knows that where she comes from credit unions are important." On her desk she displays her childhood Airdrie Savings Bank cash box.
Mrs Liddell might find, as others have done before her, that her ratings at home are not quite as high as they are abroad. Her reputation as a good performer is intact - even her critics agree she can deliver soundbites with the best of them.
But she is not a favourite among party activists. As Scottish party secretary, then as tycoon Robert Maxwell's director in Scotland, the 47-year-old has accumulated enemies. Her supporters point to her success in the difficult Monklands East by-election in the wake of John Smith's death in 1994.
There are those who claim she is an opportunist. One party veteran described her as "lazy and superficial, unwilling to apply herself to the hard grind". Another Labour activist claimed that when he was knocking up doors on election day, Mrs Liddell "was standing on a table making sure the hem of her skirt was straight". There are many old scores to settle in Scottish politics.
Yesterday, she was a vision in pink, taking on the Tories in a Commons committee scrutinising European legislation. When challenged, she did not know some of the answers, but she appeared unfazed. Nor was she fazed when she heard she was described as Scotland's answer to Mrs Thatcher. Indeed, she said: "If I do as well for my people as she did for hers, I'll do fine." - July 29