Jim Murphy’s first week into the fray after the festivities hasn’t gone well. He’s looking more and more like an assemblage of parts: socialism; catholicism; vegetarianism, teetotalism. So many isms so little ideology. The real ideology driving this politician is opportunism, a defining feature of modern politics but one honed to a fine point by Blair’s New Labour, of which Murphy is a lonely standard-bearer.
But this Frankenstein of Labour made up of body parts of broken and demented schemes of Labour lost has staggered into a minefield of his own making. Already the peasants are revolting with Diane Abbott stating yesterday:
“Devolution cannot be for Scotland alone; there should also be devolution of powers to the cities and regions. Murphy cannot bully the rest of the UK about a considered devolution of fiscal powers to all our cities with a pre-emptive strike on the mansion tax.”
The idea of an opposition leader two weeks into the job and facing electoral oblivion may cause titters amongst anyone who’s sobered up after New Year, but she is serious, adding: “I am a unionist, and I understand that the Labour party has a big electoral challenge in Scotland. But I cannot believe that Scottish voters will be taken in by a crude attempt to buy their votes with money expropriated from London.”
This is a change from the sort of puff-pieces that propelled him into position, like this from Nicholas Watt:
“Nita Clarke, who came to know Murphy during her time working in Blair’s Downing Street, thought he had a touch of stardust, reminding her of Matt Santos, the fictional young congressman in the final episodes of The West Wing who retires in frustration with politics, only to be persuaded to make a successful bid for the presidency.”
Sadly Labour’s London leaders seem not to be backing McSantos any more. After Murphy’s perfectly crafted soundbite of ‘1000 Nurses’ turned sour with BoJo protesting: “Londoners perfectly accept that we have a duty to the rest of the country. We already export huge quantities in taxation – about £19bn a year. But I don’t think it is right that the Labour party should be saying one thing to the Scots and standing on a completely different ticket in London … It is very regrettable that Labour should use divisive tactics and should be setting up one part of the country against another. It won’t pay off for them.”
BoJo’s largesse may be perplexing to anyone that has focused on London’s infrastructure as a sort of economic sump, but let’s leave that aside for now.
The Scottish hack-pack are circling the wagons round their instantly beleaguered leader with the unctuous Torcuil Crichton pleading: “If Boris Johnson thinks nurse recruitment plan is a bad idea we know it’s a winner.”
Some have suggested that the Murphy 1000 Nurses story was a clever fabrication to entice people into thinking he had a profound new autonomy. He doesn’t and they aren’t that smart or coordinated.
We’re left with a more prosaic reality. The impact of such a divisive (spot the irony) stance from McSantos is likely to impact badly on English marginals rather than win home the disaffected Labour vote here.
Other commentators beyond Crichton have a clearer view. Alex Massie writes of Murphy’s Nurses pledge: “It is also, of course, a ridiculous promise since it can only be made good if Labour forms the next government at Westminster and at Holyrood. That is, Labour must win across the UK in 2015 and in Scotland in 2016 for any of this to matter at all. Good luck with that.”
And green James Mackenzie wrote: “Ed M is surely looking at the Murphy car crash and saying to an advisor “are you absolutely sure neither of those MSPs were any cop?”
Never mind the commentators or Boris Johnson, Murphy has far more serious challenges ahead. The first is the mysteriously delayed Chilcot Inquiry report which prompted Lord Dykes of Harrow Weald, a Liberal Democrat peer, to ask in the House of Lords:
Lord Dykes asked: ‘Is my noble friend aware that more and more people think it is some kind of attempt to prolong the agony of Mr Blair facing possible war crimes charges?’ and add: “Is not this continuing delay an utter and total disgrace and so much time has elapsed?”
With little sense of how ridiculous it sounded Lord Wallace of Saltaire, a Government minister, replied that the Chilcot inquiry was not delayed compared to other recent comparable reports, arguing that the £24million Al Sweady report into alleged maltreatment of Iraqis by British troops took five years report “on two battles in one afternoon”. Such is the way the British State operates. But peoples eyes are open now. The Chilcot Commission – whether it comes out with an attempted whitewash after giving us the ‘gist’ of communications between Blair and Bush or whether it is delayed and delayed or whether it comes out and, as widely expected, fails to hide the gruesome failure of command and failings on the ground (moral, political, tactical and personal) will present Jim Murphy with a huge challenge. And for those who argue we are digging up Iraq as a weapon to bash Labour, the truth is we are all still living through the fallout of this disaster, whether it be witnessing the carnage in that poor country, or the knock-on effect throughout the Middle East and the crisis it has caused for British foreign policy.
Within Murphy’s Frankenstein construction there is a strong moral dimension projected around his political persona. This construct faces extreme difficulties in the light of the culpability of the UK authorities in rendition, the disclosure about US torture, never mind the £24million Al Sweady report into alleged maltreatment of Iraqis by British troops or the £13.5million Baha Mousa inquiry.
As on Iraq as with Trident. Murphy’s moral compass is malfunctioning.
The second crisis facing Murphy is the Smith Commission which continues to face ridicule and abandonment, even by its proponents.
Labour to win Scotland have to recapture voters who in sizeable numbers have been transformed not just in their voting intentions but in their understanding of how Britain works. Political commentator for the Telegraph Iain Martin (Step by step, devolution is wrecking the United Kingdom) generously suggests that Murphy: ” …has set about the worst job in the world – being leader of the dysfunctional Scottish Labour Party – with considerable energy.” But reality is that Ladbrokes has all Glasgow seats now being marginals (see here).
We’re faced with a new reality. Half of the country don’t want to be part of Britain. Half do. That’s a challenge for the Yes movement, but it’s also a massive challenge for Murphy. Labour have chosen the single most divisive individual to work in that reality. His first offering was a sort of psychocandy, a cheap stunt of a political gambit that has exposed his one-dimensional approach which may backfire bigtime with only four months to go.