Thursday, 18 December 2014

Murphy’s push on party rebuilding should not stop at the Tweed

Jim Murphy is the new leader of Labour in Scotland. It is hard to see this as other than good news; irrespective of political leanings, he is an experienced, Cabinet-level politician, with the kind of clout and vision that the Scottish party urgently needs. The SNP is sneering as best it can, but it is nervous laughter.

Murphy has, of course, a huge challenge on his hands: to turn around disastrous polling and an inward-looking party; left to its own devices through its hegemonic days under Blair and Brown and the early days of devolution; and later, seemingly taken by surprise by the rise of the SNP.

It was certainly high time that Scottish Labour took a long, hard look in the mirror, rather than give in to the temptation of huffily declaring that it was treated as a “branch office”, as its last leader, Johann Lamont, did. And it has: it has realised both that it needs a radical change and that it does not need to dance to the Nats’ own tune of “
only MSPs allowed”.

It has realised that, far from attracting support, trying to compete with the SNP to see who can be the most insular is a game Labour can only lose.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Murphy wins. Sky fails to fall in. Three cheers.

Jim Murphy is, thankfully, the new leader of Scottish Labour.

If you were to believe Tom Watson MP or Len McCluskey, leader of Britain's largest trade union, you would be convinced that this is a major disaster, the beginning of the end for Scottish Labour. But it is not. The sky is still up there, stubbornly refusing to fall in.

There was a straight left-right fight for the first time in quite a while within the party: and Scottish Labour chose, as the 2005 general election campaign called it, "the future, not the past".

It is more likely, as we observed here a few weeks ago, to mean the beginning of the end of Scottish Labour as we know it. To mean the end of Unite's stranglehold on parts of Scottish Labour (see Centre Lefts passim). And, just as importantly, a more outward-looking party, which actually reaches out to the Scottish electorate as the SNP has done, rather than treating them as an inconvenience to be endured. This is the first piece of good news.

The second cheer is that this is exactly the kind of party, in fact, which might do a good job in repelling the SNP's advances in May and avert the kind of meltdown in the Scottish section of the Parliamentary Labour Party which many have been predicting, based on its awful current polling. Murphy should be judged on how the polling improves over the next five months, not the number of seats Labour wins.

And the third is this: that there is finally a centrist politician back in a position of real power within the Labour Party. There is now a little hope for all of us that a bridgehead has been established, an influence which can help steer the party back towards common sense and to where the voters are.

Finally, and satisfyingly, we might note that Unite's ham-fisted attempt to fix things in favour of their preferred candidate, Neil Findlay, clearly backfired: Murphy ended up with nearly 40% of the affiliates section, which is dominated by the big unions, to Findlay's 52%. Not a bad result, given that all the major union leaders nominated Findlay over Murphy, bar two.

Murphy has not got an easy job on his hands; Scottish Labour has been slowly atrophying for decades and his victory can scarcely hope to achieve much before the election in May. 

But it may well after; not just in the 2016 Scottish general election, but in the health of the national party as well.

STOP PRESS: I was reminded, checking an old Guardian piece from the time of the Falkirk disaster, that the good members of Scottish Labour have not just rejected the preferred candidate of the Unite leadership

They have selected one who actively set himself against that leadership, who stood up to it. That, alone, is a hugely significant change.

Monday, 8 December 2014

Could this be the beginning of the end for London Labour's Stockholm Syndrome?

I am a little late to this and I also fear I may just have asked one of my friend John Rentoul's fabled "Questions To Which The Answer Is No" (that is, a headline question to which the writer wants to imply the answer is yes, but it is not). However, I have seen an encouraging sign for Labour, in times when such are few and far between.

The long-suffering local activists of Tower Hamlets Labour Party not only had to put up with Ken Livingstone campaigning for then independent mayoral candidate Lutfur Rahman in 2010. Having won, the latter has since made a disaster of his mayoralty and has had the borough's finances taken over by central government inspectors, not to mention a number of other ongoing investigations, including one questioning the 2014 election result (see Centre Lefts passim).

To add insult to injury, in light of these investigations Livingstone has continued to support the unedifying Rahman against his own party, accusing local councillors of "smears and innuendo" in a shining example of , er, smear and innuendo.

About ten days ago, according to the Evening Standard, the good members of Tower Hamlets Labour - hardly a hotbed of die-hard Blairism, I might add, should you think this might be purely factional in-fighting - finally got sick of Livingstone's antics and passed a motion suggesting that it would be better if he left the party altogether.

Their request went even further than the disciplining I was arguing for here, but not without good reason. And it is good news: it is the first time I can remember that London Labour members have broken from their habitual Stockholm Syndrome regarding the man, as I wrote here two years ago. Normally, no matter how awful the latest revelation, they have shrugged and said, "Ken is Ken", knowing that the party will never act.

But when merely campaigning for a non-Labour candidate is an expulsion offence in the party's rulebook, we do not need to accept this kind of behaviour from a member of the party's National Executive Committee Constituency Section. 

They work for us, not the other way round.

I don't know about you, but I'd be delighted if other constituency parties would follow Tower Hamlets and ask for his resignation. A precedent of untouchability is rarely good for any political party.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Unite has learned nothing from the Falkirk debacle

Last week, we started to see just how much some quarters of the Labour Party do not want Jim Murphy to become their leader in Scotland. It was not so much the carefully-crafted hatchet job from Tom Watson, which followed that of old flat-mate Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, from a few weeks earlier.

No, it was the landing on Scottish Unite members’ doormats of ballot packs from their union.

Of course, under the One Member, One Vote system which has been in place for two decades, union leaders no longer allocate millions of their members’ votes; the members decide freely for themselves, under a ballot organised by the union.

Or, at least, that’s the theory.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Jim Murphy hatchet jobs: a short series to cut out and keep

And so to the surprise of, well, no-one, we last week learned that Tom Watson MP had decided to stick the boot into Jim Murphy as the bookies' favourite to be Scottish leader. Just as his former flat-mate, Len McCluskey did a couple of weeks before, as we reported here, and seemingly by pretending, somewhat disingenuously, to admire him:
"Don't get me wrong, I like Jim Murphy's aggressive, lead-from-the-front approach. And he can win marathons for political endurance."
Yeah, right. 
"Yet he will be the first to know that his association with the leadership of the Better Together campaign is disastrous positioning."
Ah, so that will be the Better Together campaign that won the votes of the majority of the Scottish electorate. Yes, what a disaster for him.

Also, judging by past performance, expect more of these kind of pieces over the next couple of weeks, as we lead up to the Scottish leadership election finale in December; it would not be going out too much on a limb to predict a further piece from Owen Jones, say. Or the Guardian's Seumas Milne. Familiar, friendly faces to the Unite boss.

Happily, I suspect that Scottish Labour members may just have become a little fed up of being told what to think by Unite.

Especially after what happened in Falkirk.

STOP PRESS: I just found this further hatchet job at the Huffington Post by a chap called John Wight. However, I'm not sure if it really counts for my collection, as (a) he is not either a "proper" journalist or a key party figure, and (b) the bonkers Wight is also a fan of genocidal dictator Bashar Assad, as my good friends at Harry's Place helpfully point out.

STOP PRESS (II): I underestimated Owen Jones (see above), who actually got there first. In this wonderfully apocalyptic piece entitled "The grim reaper is knocking for Scottish Labour", Jones explains the evil Blairites' cunning plan to spoil everything:
So who is being lined up as Lamont’s successor? The arch-Blairite, staunchly pro-war Westminster machine politician, Jim Murphy.
To be fair, though, this is not a proper hatchet job, as the whole piece is not dedicated to Murphy. It's more of, say, a drive-by shooting.

STOP PRESS (III): on a related topic, thanks to Paul Hutcheon for pointing out to me his piece in today's Scottish Sunday Herald, on how the unions are using the ballot packs they send out to members to "help" them to vote in their preferred way (despite the fact that the ballot is One Member, One Vote and therefore members choose, not union leaders).

The GMB have repeated the stunt they pulled in the UK leadership election of 2010 in including only campaign literature from their preferred candidate (and not the other two). The most shameless was, predictably, Unite, who included a "mock" ballot paper along with the real one, with a cross in Neil Findlay's name. As a "senior party source" said, it's "desperate stuff".
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