Speeches make as gloopy as tar:
Drab and dreary, dour and weary
Pretending that we’re par. ♫
~ Quest of the Magi, adjusted for Scottish Labour Conference
I count it one of life’s satisfactions that I’ll never (except prompted by some mischievous Satanic intervention) have to hear him mutilate the word ‘myrrh’, which I’ve no doubt he would exhale through clenched teeth, in his typical Tetanus jaw-tight phrasing. Few would mistake him for one of life’s Wise Men. Yet taking in yesterday’s Scottish Labour Conference in
Some of our Labour colleagues might well suggest that this difference of tone is all to the good – the people’s party is no personality cult, they might argue. Although I’m no fan of misplaced yearnings for authoritarian leadership, I don’t think the objection can be disposed of so easily. It seems to me simply the case that Gray is diminished by not being exalted at these party gatherings, and that this magnifies his smallness in the public consciousness. Which on any reading, can’t be much of a support come 2011 and the fresh round of elections to Holyrood. Although the BBC cut away from Gray’s speech before he had rounded it off, I’m disposed to be far more generous than our public broadcaster. His whole address can be read here. I just wanted to pluck out an issue or two for special comment, ridicule or emphasis. Firstly, Gray reiterated a now familiar Labour narrative, post 2007. Lingering on political recovery, on rehabilitation, of admitting past hammerings. In particular, however, I wanted to stress the Gray twist of self admiration with which he seasoned this homely dish.
“Eighteen months ago when you elected me leader, times were certainly difficult and perplexing …We were in opposition in Holyrood, on the back foot, without a leader, trailing in every Scottish poll. We had just lost Glasgow East to the SNP. It was hard to see what the opportunity was.”
He goes on to traipse through Glenrothes and Glasgow North East by-elections, arguing that Labour had to “find and hold our nerve”, to “rededicate ourselves anew to our core purpose” – but crucially, that they’ve now “walked that long road back together”. The emphasis in his first section is I’d suggest, significant. In the media, Scottish Labour’s “resuscitation” – or its veering away from the brink of total oblivion – has been regularly imputed to certain strategic decisions made by a long and lean Secretary of State for
The main thrust of the next section seemed to be that Alex Salmond is the Tory Word Made Flesh amongst us. According the Gray, there are any number of things “we don’t have to imagine” about the Conservative Party and David Cameron. Despite all evidence to the contrary, Gray theorises that the SNP secretly wear blue knickers – and that if the Maximum Eck peeled off his paunchy curry suit, a resplendent and coiffured Cameron would emerge. His sickly, sticky fantasies include the suggestion that:
“We don’t have to imagine what happens when you have someone in charge who doesn’t care about
’s defence contracts. Alex Salmond wants Scotland out of Scotland and doesn’t care if that means thousands of jobs come out of Rosyth, Faslane, Kinloss, Lossiemouth, Leuchars and the shipyards of the Britain Clyde.”
There is at least something rather inconsistent here. How can it be the Salmond Slump, if this is a global recession? How can Gray contest the idea of a London Recession by deploying worldwide economic arguments, only to get a thrill of enthusiasm for local politics and pile the blame on Salmond’s shoulders? What is more, I think we can all agree that nice school buildings, with good facilities are a good thing, something we can support. All of the usual objects and platitudes of shapeless Labour speeches – fairness, social justice, producing kids who can read and write their names, better hospitals, that folk should be able to work and achieve the means to secure paid employment – everyone will likely be able to pledge him or herself to some conception of the importance of these features of our public life and the provisions of our politics. Certainly, people will disagree about what is just and fair, and why. However, we should also bear in mind that the questions of how to bring about these policies and how best to pay for them are also substantial questions of fairness and justice. The two are not distinct. I can understand the thrill of irresponsible politics, the promise of bottomless jails, of endless indulgence in PPP cost-deferring and cost-mounting, peddling false pictures of the powers of Scottish ministers – but we should resist the temptation. That said, lets end on a gentle, mirthful note. Said Gray, no doubt all a’sparkle:
“On Thursday Alex Salmond called me Jim Murphy’s placeman. He was probably up all night crafting that brilliant rapier like riposte. But it is a bit rich coming from the man who would be David Cameron’s doorman.”
One of the features of a guilty mind is that it sees everywhere and in everyone the expression of its own sins. This from Gray, a man whose every attempt at gay wit and repartee – including the present jibe – bears the unmistakeable whiff of the lamp, even without the enhancements of his gluey, spiritless delivery. To whit, see Gray’s suggestion above that we should Forget the Celtic Lion, now Alex Salmond is the Celtic Kiwi. Frankly, I’ve no idea quite what this metaphor denotes. He is flightless? Cowrin’ and timorous with nocturnal habits? Surely not fluffy and cute? Or is Gray alleging that the Māori believe the Maximum Eck to be under the protection of Tāne, God of Birds and Forests?