The team that Tony Blair could lead into the next General Election

will be revealed tomorrow and, as Benedict Brogan explains, several

Scottish members are favoured as main players

THE 270 MPs of the Parliamentary Labour Party will tomorrow vote to

elect the Shadow Cabinet. The annual beauty contest is being anxiously

watched this year by leader Tony Blair and his supporters: with a

General Election imminent, the victors will, in all likelihood, form the

first Blair Cabinet, and the leader is determined to have the people he

wants -- as opposed to the people others want -- by his side when he

walks into Downing Street.

Nominations, which require the signature of only one MP, closed last

night. There are 42 MPs standing, including Shadow Cabinet incumbents.

Blair and his deputy John Prescott are ex-officio members.

This year the Shadow Cabinet expands by one, to 19, after Blair's

decision to make the post of Chief Whip an appointment from the Shadow

Cabinet, rather than the subject of a separate election. MPs can vote

for up to 19 of the nominees, and must vote for at least four women. The

19 with the most votes are elected.

Betting on the outcome is a sure way to lose money. Although one or

two members of the Shadow Cabinet are voted off each year, and others

added, predicting who will fall and who will succeed is an

impossibility. This year two Scots lead the field of those tipped as

''most likely to get on''. Brian Wilson and Alistair Darling are admired

for their hard work, for the success they have made of their front-bench

responsibilities, and for their ease in front of the cameras.

But talent alone is not a guarantee of success. Supporters of both men

readily admit that the jealousies and suspicions which seethe beneath

the PLP's surface could play against their candidates.

Internal divisions over the direction in which the party is being led

by its modernising leader could persuade disgruntled back-benchers to

use these elections to remind Blair of their concerns. After a summer of

infighting, tomorrow's result will give a crucial indication of Blair's

support among back-benchers.

Brian Wilson, the 46-year-old Cunninghame North MP, is the

leadership's favourite. His support is reported to have grown in the

past week and he is considered to have the strongest chance of

dislodging one of the Shadow Cabinet's weaker members.

As transport spokesman last year he led Labour's highly-successful

attack on railway privatisation, and this year led the support for

Blair's scrapping of Clause 4. His closing speech at the special

conference to ratify the change last April helped to clinch victory for

the leadership.

But the world of the Shadow Cabinet elections is one where merit must

often take a back-seat to jealousy and ideology, and Wilson's success,

and close identification with the Blair wing of the party, may also

prove a liability.

One of his supporters said: ''Brian gets enormous marks for activity

and enthusiasm. If anything his problem is that he has too high a

profile. He gets up people's noses.''

Fans of Alistair Darling, 41, Labour's front-bench City spokesman,

bemoan his refusal to involve himself in the networking required to

attract PLP support. Instead, he is noted as a hard worker, who is

praised for the skill with which he has improved the party's image in

the worlds of business and industry.

He is standing for the third time, and on previous attempts has been

further behind the field than Wilson. But sources in Blair's office are

firm in their belief that even if he falls short this year, a place will

be found for him in a Blair Cabinet once Labour is in office.

One source in Blair's office said: ''There is a pivotal point that's

reached for people like Brian and Alistair. A lot of their colleagues

harbour ambitions that are as yet unfulfilled, or will never be

fulfilled. They often look with suspicion on those who come up fast and

who, they feel, should first work their passage. You can never tell when

the PLP will decide someone has worked their passage''.

The other Scots standing include transport spokesman Henry McLeish,

who has made a good summer out of the chaos of railway privatisation and

is considered a long-term Shadow Cabinet prospect; George Foulkes, the

Carrick MP and Overseas Aid spokesman; Paisley North MP Irene Adams; and

the former Shadow Scottish Secretary Tom Clarke, who was voted off last


The current Shadow Cabinet contains a number of MPs whose presence is

attributable to the strong support of regional or left-wing factions

rather than their close support for Blair. His followers are understood

to be pressing the leader to consider scrapping the current system


They want Labour to imitate the Tories and place the choice of the

Shadow Cabinet firmly in the hands of the party leader. Although Blair

has made clear he has no plans to change the rules, he would prefer not

to leave it to the whim of his back-benchers.

One suggestion is that next year, in anticipation of a Labour victory,

Blair should be given the right to appoint his Cabinet-in-waiting.

Elections would be reinstated once Labour returned to opposition. As for

tomorrow, a source said: ''Whatever the position of the Left, there is a

consensus that this time the vote matters. We are voting for what could

be the next Labour Government.''