Murphy campaign: Why waste time apologising?

Jim Murphy’s campaign for the Leadership of Scottish Labour began today with the sophist ritual humiliation that has become the hallmark of the age of mindless politics.

This began with Murphy’s old mentor, Tony Blair, who ‘took responsibility’ for so much, so often and with so total an absence of any negative consequence that he devalued responsible politics, probably for good.

Along with this came the sackcloth-and-ashes apology, eventually mocked in that fabulous You Tube production of Nick Clegg weakly and repetitively saying ‘I’m sorry. I’m so sorry’.

We’ve had all that. We yawn until the performance is over and wait for life to pick up. It’s never sincere and in this case it has a very different purpose – to separate Mr Murphy, who had no responsibility for it [except for not having committed to Holyrood much earlier], from the blind drift of Labour towards the periphery of politics in Scotland. At least Jim Murphy, however belatedly, saw the danger and got on the crates in his Irn Bru tour of streetwise engagement.

But surely, while there may be a theoretical benefit in starting with an apology [to clear the ground for a fresh start] – in terms of energy, it’s a downer.

An apology is, by definition, retrospective when Labour must start moving forwards at warp speed. You can’t attack off the back of an apology. It’s no launch pad. At best it lets you hold your ground for a later launch. But this was supposed to be the launch and it simply lost time Labour does not have.

The other thing Jim Murphy has to guard against when he in speaking formally and essentially without motivation, is a flat monotone voice. The ‘apology’ theme of his launch today gave him no prompt for energy, conviction, or purpose – and it droned on. This really is death dealing.

On the streets, when he has to get and hold attention, mobilise it, deflect attack to his advantage, Murphy’s mind is in top gear and his voice attuned to that. He needs adrenaline. This is not, of course, to say that he ought universally to be in ‘street mode’ but that he must always engage spirit and intellectual commitment with his words and in his delivery of them.

The timeline

It’s now six months to the General Election on 7th May 2015.

In that time, Murphy first has to fight a campaign to win the leadership, which will complete on 13th December. While he will try to use this also to start the job of cranking Labour up – because this is in a competitive campaign, he will have to face the criticisms from his opposing candidates and from those who support them. So he will get no free home runs in this and will take some ‘friendly fire’  hits in full public view. Nicola Sturgeon, by contrast, is having an unchallenged pre-coronation queenly progress.

This six month period also includes the two dread dead months of the year – December and January – with the endless, shapeless downtime of the first, the lost weeks between Christmas and Hogmanay; and in the pits of the year that is January.

This effectively leaves Murphy, if he wins, with three months to do the job of stemming as much of an ebb tide as possible.

The SNP will take seats from Labour in the General Election. Murphy cannot be judged by that  – it is now inevitable. But he may be measured by how much his impact can reduce the number of the losses. His is a fire fighting job in this first instance  – and what he retrieves will be the foundation for the fightback for which he will have one more year – the 2016 Scottish Election.

The politics

At this point Scottish Labour has to forget about the wider Labour family and get on with creating a Labour that speaks directly to Scotland. If it does this successfully, it will be to the advantage of the Labour party at large. Conversely, if testosterone gets in the way and Labour HQ insists of putting the patronising fingerprints of ownership on the Scottish campaign from time to time, they can only impede what progress can be made.

This is in effect a battle for the survival of Labour as an effective force in Scottish and in United Kingdom politics. Labour HQ – and Ed Miliband, whatever it costs them to do so – must leave Scottish Labour to Murphy. He will have to be free to ask for and get exactly – and only – what he wants and what he knows will help.

All of this is based on the scenario of a Murphy win.

He has to win. He is the only one of the three candidates with any hope of lifting Labour out of the bog. The winning candidate must win two out of three votes: of the MSPs and MPs; of the party membership; and of the Trades Unions.

Sarah Boyack, an interesting minor player in the Donald Dewar regime, never developed as it once looked she might; and is, effectively a non-event. She will not win any of the three votes.

Neil Findlay is, immediately obviously, a man of genuine substance. He is rooted in the trades union faction and will get most of his support from it – some unions, including the major Unison, have already declared for him. Unite will do the same. In the wider public view this may not help him. A difficulty is that the aura is one of the grim, hold-fast, fixer trades unionism of the worst of old Labour. The unions also need regeneration.

But Findlay is likely to win the Unions’ vote and will certainly be an agent of the serious debate that is needed as Labour confronts its regeneration.

A second difficulty is that Findlay has no public profile and may have neither the capacity nor the interest to develop one. A Leader has to be known since a Leader leads not only a party but a country.

We hold to the view that Murphy is not the man for the necessary redesign of the nature and party structures of Labour is Scotland – but that tricky rebuilding could not be realised in time for the 2015 General Election nor, really, for the 2016 Scottish Election.

So the immediate job for Scottish Labour is to use what useful elements of the current structure let them establish independence from the intervention of party HQ – and the unions – and start changing the mood. The present challenge is all about mood music – which is where apology was a wrong first note; and a wasted opportunity for the start of a crescendo from the man who can do mood music.

Social justice is a sine qua non – but social justice has to be paid for – which means responsible fiscal policy. In the end, social justice without social responsibility simply entrenches a society built on classist and political tribal division – a negative and, to use Murphy’s phrase, a ‘self-harming’ situation we seem to find hard to leave behind.

The hard yards

Labour has to find the discipline to stop damaging itself in fractionalising internal scrapping and get behind a winner.

If Scottish Labour can get through the General Election with stout damage limitation and emerge in good heart for the main struggle – for Scotland, in 2016, Murphy will have done a sterling job.

From then on the challenge is different.

One man cannot lift Labour, as no one person lifted the SNP and the Yes campaign. The front-end inspiration and drive from its Leader has to carry on to 2016 and long beyond it – but the party has got to get to work to deliver the mobilisation of its body politic..

The SNP got its message and its hope for change into the bloodstream, systemically, in what has to be a landmark triumph of organisation. Labour today simply does not have the organisational ability – the genius – to pull off anything like this broad and deep social infiltration. But in its own way, whatever that proves to be, Scottish Labour must excite and mobilise arterially, not externally.

The SNP had – and used –  seven years to achieve what it has done. Scottish Labour has eighteen months. It matters to robust democracy and not just to Labour, that they get there.

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Related Articles & Comments

  • Trying to distance itself from the unions – the only remaining organs of working class power – is a hiding to nothing. Labour should be encouraging working people to join unions and rebuild their rights in the workplace. A new unionism is needed desperately by those dealing with low pay and limited hours. Labour should be in a vanguard of that, not trying to be a slightly less malign version of the tories. Distancing itself from the unions is what got Labour into this mess in the first place, and it’s the reason that they can no longer speak for working people. Jim Murphy came up through Labour Students, a notoriously Blairite, middle class organisation which he used as a vehicle to launch his political career at the expense of his fellow students. He has never had a job outside politics as far as I can tell. People like him are why Labour fail to connect with people. He could have worn a blue, red or yellow rosette and wouldn’t have looked out of place with any of them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 6

    Arethosemyfeet November 1, 2014 10:22 pm Reply
    • The problem with the unions and Labour in Scotland is that the Augean stables need swept; there has been no proper reckoning since the debacle at Linlithgow and Grangemouth, it was just swept under the carpet.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 4

      db November 2, 2014 4:29 am Reply
      • That rather assumes there was a problem beyond tabloid scare stories, which I’m not convinced of.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 7

        Arethosemyfeet November 2, 2014 8:35 am Reply
        • Exactly that; we don’t know anything other than the necessarily biased reports in the media, as Labour refused to make their findings public. We need an effective opposition to hold the government’s feet to the fire, but Labour haven’t been effective since McConnell resigned.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

          db November 2, 2014 6:57 pm Reply
      • For db: There can be no doubt about that.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 4

        newsroom November 2, 2014 10:06 am Reply
    • Since when did the Unions put a £1 in a members pocket. For all the ‘soap box reds’ shouting anarchy in the streets and organising mass marches against this, that ,and anything they thought would rouse the working population, when did they gain anything for their members. Where are the pits ? Where are the shipyards ? Where are the steel mills ? The Unions caused so much over manning by their stupidity that eventually everything folded, and very suddenly, causing so much hardship for so many. And of course by the time Scottish Industry had been slimmed down to a viable level the rest of the world had taken over and there was little if anything left. It is very noticeable that Unison and Co are trying to drag us back into the past – do they never learn ?
      PS – forgot to mention possibly the worst one – our motor industry – killed and buried by the Unions.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 9

      Malcolm Kirk November 2, 2014 8:38 am Reply
      • You don’t get to blame unions for management incompetence. Typical capitalist – when a company does well it’s down to the bosses, when it goes badly it must be the fault of the workers. If management had actually bothered to negotiate properly with unions rather than seeing them as enemies to be destroyed the situation would never have reached crisis point as it did in the 70s. Had industry been willing to work with unions, as it did and does in Germany and much of Scandinavia, we would have a lot more industry at better wages and real training to give workers the skills they need rather than employers trying to get the government to pay their staff training costs.

        Unions have done far more than put a pound in people’s pockets (though they have done that many times over), they have saved thousands of lives. Without unions we would have no health and safety at work act, which alone has saved thousands of lives in the construction industry. Improvements in the building trade came because of flying pickets and working people like Ricky Tomlinson putting their livelihoods and freedom on the line to save lives. For that they got imprisonment and blacklisting.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 3

        Arethosemyfeet November 2, 2014 10:08 am Reply
        • ATMF – If you want to believe that utter bollocks – please feel free.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 10

          Malcolm Kirk November 2, 2014 10:24 am Reply
  • I think that the word ‘sorry’ has come to have lost its original meaning, in or out of politics – we all automatically say ‘sorry’ when we didn’t hear what’s being said to us, or someone bumps into us at the checkout, don’t we?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

    Robert Wakeham November 1, 2014 10:38 pm Reply
  • How about apoligising for standing on a party ticket having party loyalists deliver your leaflets, get elected only to dump the party when it interferes with your Lead Councillor aspirations?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

    Jim Clark November 2, 2014 1:13 am Reply
  • The article mentions “Scottish Labour” at least four times. This site is in danger of becoming the Daily Record of blogging.
    “Scottish Labour” like “The Vow” is a fraudulent Unionist construct designed to confused half-baked Scottish voters.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 8

    Murdoch MacKenzie November 2, 2014 7:00 am Reply
    • This may be a more informal than formal a description but it is an accurate one.
      Scottish Labour has always been distinctive and, as a small country, Scotland has a history of proud embedded socialism that is part of its character.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 7

      newsroom November 2, 2014 10:21 am Reply
  • The good news apparently is you can now join the Labour Party for £5.00 now, not sure if this is an offer but I don’t expect to see any rise in membership of any degree, looks like it’s being sold in the bottom shelf bargin basement party memberships as the SNP (after checking) are £12

    And have now a eye watering over 80000 members
    I would stick it in the fuel tank of the range and at least get to the shop and back for £5.00

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    MB November 2, 2014 10:18 am Reply
  • Putting Westminsters nan into Scotland to try to reinforce London rule is a doomed policy…and. it shows how hopelessly out of touch Lsbour is,

    This is a replay. of Tories being wiped out in Scotland.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 3

    willie November 2, 2014 12:00 pm Reply
  • arethosemyfeet

    dear dearie me

    i am sure i am not the only one who thinks the word bollocks should not be used in such a context by malcolm kirk

    i am also sure that the word bollocks should be used with most posts from malcolm kirk along with smug, self centred, i’m alright jack stuff the rest of you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 6

    agnes moffat November 2, 2014 12:26 pm Reply
    • Och Agnes Dear – I was really getting quite fond of you and then you had to go and spoil it !

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 6

      Malcolm Kirk November 2, 2014 6:09 pm Reply
  • I see that stalwart of “The Vow” Alistair Darling is not standing for re-election. The knighthood must be in the bag. Labour to the core that man.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

    John Semple November 2, 2014 8:25 pm Reply
    • No knighthood for him – no money in it nor unelected power over us.

      Lord Darling of Loretto I’d say, up there with former colleagues Foulkes and Lord Whatshisname of Fireraising. Much more in keeping with Labour’s instinctive self-serving tradition.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

      Chuck November 2, 2014 11:00 pm Reply
      • Lord Whatshisname of Fireraising – Michael Watson MSP, Baron Watson of Invergowrie, one time Tourism Minister and current Labour peer in the House of Lords – had a night of madness at The Herald’s Political Awards at the Prestonfield Hotel in Edinburgh in 2004. In a drunken huff at having been refused more drink, Watson set fire to the curtains in an action that could have led to serious loss of life – and did bird for it on the back of evidence from a CCTV camera picking him up in the act of ignition.
        This tale is in the annals of political blackguardry, along with Geoffrey Archer’s, Jonathan Aitken’s and Chris Huhne’s perjury; with the leaders in the genre being John Stonehouse, Jeremy Thorpe and Lord Lucan.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

        newsroom November 2, 2014 11:30 pm Reply
        • IIRC I think Thorpe qualified for what we’d see as Not Proven. Just.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 3

          Chuck November 2, 2014 11:36 pm Reply
  • Maybe For Argyll will give us a “pledge” that when she writes up made up stories she will apologise for them.
    Prior to the Oban election For Argyll suggested that the snp will be going into coalition with Walsh and Morton. A lie as all can see. Has she sacked her source?
    On behalf of For Argyll I apologise and give a vow nay I pledge that I will not print made up stories for a By election signed……………
    http://forargyll.com/2014/10/snp-considering-coalition-in-argyll-and-bute/

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

    No Cheese Here November 2, 2014 10:22 pm Reply
  • Jim Murphy’s appointment to leader of North Britain branch should it materialise has a gargantuan obstacle awaiting, that is, apart from a very disgruntled 45% of the electorate.
    Should in the unlikely event ‘Scottish’ Labour plough a lone furrow ignoring HQ and do their own thing here in Scotland that resonates with our electorate, what happens to the political philosophy of ‘One Nation’ Miliband adopted from the Tories?
    How well will ‘Brand Spanking New The Real Deal Scottish Labour’ and their working class manifesto for the working class go down with their imperialist masters never mind the electorate north of the Watford gap wanting a return of Labour’s old values?
    I dunno, it sticks in my craw to see this opportunist Murphy, he who has shown little or no interest in constitutional reform to suddenly, not through an inner drive and desire to see the ails of the country of his birth addressed, but having been forced to sit up and take notice of us, to take an interest in Scotland’s political climate as a result of the rise in popularity of the SNP. None, not one of his Party North or South would be talking more powers for Scotland, same goes for their other Better Together chums the Tories and Lib Dems, had the SNP not lead this country with policies they should have delivered previously.
    I for one won’t discount a resurgence of Labour in Scotland, they can be a devious, crooked lot, dirty tricks aplenty, besides, a week is a long time as they say never mind six months.
    In the mean time, the political permutations of what may unfold are expanding as each twist and turn of a post NO Scotland evolves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

    JnrTick November 3, 2014 12:38 am Reply
    • Federalism looks more and more like a worthwhile option.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

      Robert Wakeham November 3, 2014 2:23 am Reply
      • That’s essentially what was asked for by both Scotland and Ireland right up until WW1. It was the policy of the Liberal governments from the 1880s onwards, with up to 60 Scottish MPs. It was the policy of the Irish Parliamentary Party, intermittently holding the balance of power at Westminster with 80 plus MPs.

        It was successfully opposed by the Tories, the Lords and by factions within the Liberal Party who sided with the Tories at crucial junctures. Most powerful of the opponents were the Lords who repeatedly vetoed those home rule bills which had been passed by the Commons.

        In its early decades, one of Labour’s main policies was home rule for Scotland. And then they got power. In the run up to the October 1974 GE, and in the face of a potential wipeout in Scotland, Labour promised devo-lite to stall the SNP surge. By a whisker, they prevented the SNP from winning the handful of additional seats they needed to hold the balance of power at WM. Lying about the contents of the McCrone Report was of crucial importance to the outcome and to the subsequent history of Britain. Of course, history repeated itself and, as with Gladstone’s Liberals, factions within Labour won the day and defeated devo-lite.

        Like many others, I despair of the nature of democracy in the UK when I look at the past 140 years’ treatment of the Scottish Question, never mind the Irish Question.

        Federalism, urgently, is now the union’s only and final hope. It should have been implemented well over 100 years ago. In particular, Ireland’s history would have been a happier one. Confederalism would have offered more constitutional stability in the long term but that’s an interdependent partnership agreed between sovereign and nominally independent states and, for the time being, that possibility for the UK has been eliminated by the No vote, by the rise of UKIP in England, and by the closed minds which dominate the unionist parties. They’ll block federalism too, likely enough.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

        Chuck November 3, 2014 10:39 am Reply
        • Watching what is and is not happening at the moment, there is every likelihood that Federalism will be swerved – and that is indeed the Union’s last chance.
          Federalism would be renewal, would bring to an end the indefensible discrimination against England and would create relationships of mutuality and respect.
          It really is extraordinary that at its time of greatest need, the current main parties in the Union are each led by weak and empty nonentities.

          Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 3

          newsroom November 3, 2014 10:49 am Reply
      • Federalism for me does not tick all the boxes Robert. Regrettably, this may well be what materialises providing constitutional settlement for the foreseeable future, hope I’m wrong.
        Mind you, I err on the side of pessimism.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

        JnrTick November 7, 2014 12:03 am Reply
  • No Cheese Here
    I thank you for your humbling apology on behalf of this blog.
    remember it is only a blog and i don’t know if blogs have a code of conduct when it comes to truth.
    when the pretentious word “newsroom” is used to pretend it is not a blog does it elevate itself to a new level of responsibility? No it is still a blog

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

    agnes moffat November 3, 2014 10:41 am Reply

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