Poor Jim. A victim of circumstances. Talented. Did his best. A plucky, energetic campaign. Formidable politician. Couldn't hold back the tide. A long crisis in Scottish Labour. Not his fault.
As the UK Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, and even sorry old UKIP are sitting around telling sad stories of the death of kings, Jim Murphy hopes to hold on, unsalaried, seatless, representing nowhere, as leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Murphy's friends and sympathisers in the party and in the media are busily attempting to erect a firewall around the unseated leader, insulating him from any responsibility for Thursday's calamity.
Jim wasn't erratic, implausible, unfocussed -- he was vigorous, impressive, but stymied by Labour's structural deficiencies. Give him time, the logic runs, a second shot at it, and his undoubted talents will reshape the people's party into a fighting force once again. That's the story, anyway.
But wouldn't this all be rather more plausible if Mr Murphy -- and his crack squad of Better Together spinners -- hadn't run such a dreadful, purely tactical, unstrategic, incoherent gattling gun campaign? Jim Murphy may be forgiven for failing to work miracles -- but will his party colleagues really forgive him his many missteps and misjudgments in what was -- let's remember -- a thoroughly devolved Scottish Labour campaign.
Let's consider the evidence against him. Late in April, he told the Sunday Times that his party had "fallen asleep" after the referendum. It is worth remembering that Murphy won the internal leadership contest in the middle of December last year. His appointment was met with a splendid and sympathetic press ("a formidable campaigner: he has turned his once Tory seat into a seat for life")
But little in Murphy's subsequent choices suggested that he thought that Scottish Labour had anything more than a crisis of leadership. From the get go, the relentless focus of the Scottish Labour campaign was on his own character. He was the key spokesman for the party throughout the campaign, despite consistently ambivalent personal ratings. Like his chief of staff, complacent Murphy seemed think that all Scottish Labour needed was "a striker", and he was only too happy to pull on the boots.
Ponder this question. In the critical early days of his leadership, when the party needed to nourish its roots, jury rig its organisation, and forge ahead with a judicious focus on the critical issues -- what were Murphy's priorities? How did he forge on to reclaim the territory Labour had lost? Ah, yes. The football. Football kits. Football matches. Liquor at football. Running along the Clyde in a football shirt. To what end? Headline grabbing sideshows, the fundamentals, sidelined.
But if Murphy knew full well that the Labour Party were under the cosh in the wake of the referendum, and expecting a little local difficulties across the country, why the devil did he tell the media in December that his party wouldn't lose a single seat? If Jim fully apprehended the weakness of his organisation, why was he boasting to Buzzfeed as recently as January that his main opponents were flat footed, off pace easily outwitted?
A measure of bullshit peddling is to be forgiven -- morale must be sustained, after all -- but these are unforced errors that reeked of hubris rather than the plucky confidence of the underdog. To risk a Bourbon strategy, evoking the very worst of a party who seems to have learned nothing and forgiven nothing since 2007, was bananas.
And then there was the referendum. Unseated Labour MP, Ian Davidson, put the central incoherence clearly on election night. Murphy chose to begin this campaign by emphasising a gentle, wooing appeal to those who voted Yes in September. Having appointed a slate of SNP hating ultras to his private office, he disavowed a unionist approach, pledging to focus on issues of social justice and what a Labour government in London might achieve.
But cheek by jowl with polling day, democratic socialist, un-unionist Jim was launching scary poster campaigns, which were only likely to appeal to frit Tory unionists, who wanted to keep the Nats out. This desperate last gambit only helped to entrench the referendum fight as a dividing line in this election, to Labour's obvious disadvantage. A Scottish Labour Party cannot survive on the votes of Alex Massie and Chris Deerin alone. This much should have been self evident. But Jim decided otherwise, in yet another change of tack.
He thought he had secured a wicked debating point over Nicola Sturgeon on the costs of fiscal autonomy. This is a complex issue. The merits and demerits and depth of the SNP thinking on this are for another day. But as a matter of political strategy? It looked good on paper. It appealed to the most embedded of Labour prejudices against the Nats -- "The SNP are committed to more austerity than Labour. Telt ye. Tartan Tories, etc" -- but it was wonky, technical, and relied on convincing folk that something which we know appeals to Scots at a low information level -- more powers -- would really have their shirt. Yet Murphy kept plugging away at this unpromising line for weeks. Another good call.
This was an erratic, negative campaign by trial and error, which obscured elements of Labour's more compelling policy platform by focussing on a succession of hopeless canards. You can see Jim, sitting down with Blair McDougall in front of a plain piece of paper, brainstorming, listing ideas, trying each strategy in turn, and scoring them off when they don't work, without any eye to their internal or systematic coherence or anxiety that the public may have been paying attention, and have noticed the contradictions.
Murphy is clearly a formidable political operator within the now stricken Scottish Labour party. But if the 2011 campaign is anything to go by, he is old guard, deeply implicated in the party's current malaise, and a rubber chicken when it comes to broader strategy. He reposed faith in the judgement of the wrong people and, left to his own devices, pursued the wrong priorities, pushing his comrades and allies to ruin. This is not the legacy of a man who just got unlucky, whatever Jim's remaining adherents might insist.
Like his political mentor Tony Blair, Jim Murphy was "the future once", in David Cameron's barbed phrase. And now, the lost leader, the man of straw, is trying to bounce his colleagues into permitting him to stay, saved only by the logic that there is no viable alternative in Ian Murray or in his Holyrood colleagues. They must be fuming.
Murphy may have had only five months to screw up the Scottish Labour Party, but he's made a grand fist of it. It always looked like a tough campaign, but I can't believe that the party's near wipe-out yesterday was inevitable. No busy SNP activist I met during the campaign ever thought it was inevitable. And make no mistake, accept no spin: Murphy's hands are dipped in the blood.