7 September 2009

Speaking to the Labour organ grinder & finding the monkey...

Behold! I give you: the Labour Party policy machine. To the left, you can see the roaring engine when it was shining in use, providing much-needed entertainment for the young and old alike. Those days are gone. Somewhere, in concrete vaults beneath John Smith House this once-proud instrument slumps, sagging soundlessly in the silence. In flatulent recline under a filing cabinet, issuing wraiths of nicotine are the only evidence of its boozing monkey crony’s continuing existence. Now and then, the supine catarrhine celebrates the passage of love in shambling, spiritless jigs, before returning to its dank shelf, in the company of a wet spot of Tennent’s cooking lager to lubricate the smoke. Both are idle, rivven with melancholy and entirely unproductive.

A fair picture, do you think? “They have learned nothing and forgotten nothing,” the bobbing Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Perigord once observed of the dispossessed Bourbon monarchy of France. The flexible Talleyrand, who served as Napoleon’s Foreign Minister in duplicitous diplomatic style, would not stoop, perhaps, to throw his voice through history and take an interest in wur ain Scotch Labour Party. Nevertheless, immediately after May 2007, and for a quivering dollop of time thereafter, press critique of the Scottish Labourites took its cue from the dead Frenchman. Learnt nothing, forgotten nothing.

Understandably, appropriately, that discourse has now shifted into a different phase. The talk now is not of “learning to accept defeat” – but the more vigorous fiery cross which summons political combatants to lay on, get to it. Get on with it. Similarly, as the seconds march by, and the balance of years shifts such that the next election is closer than the last, thoughts inevitably tend towards 2011. Of ideas, of policies, of decisive influences, undertows, wicked currents – all of which might snatch the wary – drowning the hopes of the spangly support act - Tetanus Iain and the Shades of Gray – or alternatively kicking the sagging Salmond and Shoal out onto the arid sands of public contempt and watching them, parchedly, expire.

Where in this drift-snatching competition ought the Labour Party to be seeded? Here are a few things which might assist in making up your mind. As Iain Gray himself said, at the last congregation of the red(ish) faithful:

“This conference is a milestone in the preparation of our manifesto for the 2011 Scottish election. I appointed Margaret Curran to enhance our policy forum process and ensure that our policies resonate with the people whose trust we seek to implement them.

Each Policy Commission will work with a sounding board of experts from beyond the Labour Party to develop the most effective practical and deliverable policies commensurate with our values and vision.”

As I pointed out at the time, and as the MSM singularly failed to report appropriately, in May of 2009, Curran got fed up of the samey repertoire of her policy organ and kicked the monkey. What happened after that? Where, the evidence of continuing political development? What sound of Labour’s labourers in the policy workyard might we lend a curious ear to? A hasty excursion to their digital citadel – and the optimistic banner entitled “What We Believe”, furnishes the curious with … er … not much. Four documents, entitled Economy and Environment, Health and Housing, Education and finally Crime and Justice repose within. Rather discouragingly, these reports – in Labour’s What We Believe section mind – warn the curious reader:

“DRAFT – This is a discussion paper only. The content of this document does not necessarily reflect Scottish Labour Party policy.”

Of course, you’d have to be ludicrously, unyieldingly tribal to see the fun in such a claim at the heart of an explication of Labour policy. Thankfully, I’m flexibly partisan myself, and thus can’t detect anything remotely mirthful about it. Others alas, lack my humble judicial insouciance... Interestingly, I notice that none of these have been updated since 03.03.09 – coinciding with Icepick Curran’s flight to “coalfaces” new. While there have been rumblings on the nature of the Slab policy on the Cooncil Tax, the full brick-and-mortar count of that policy is yet fully to emerge. So what of our starting drama, of lung-rotted money and silent organ? Who is making Labour’s policies for 2011 and what the dickens will they be?

In that context, anticipate as time progresses an increased media focus on the perceived or actual vacuities at the centre of the Labour Party in Scotland. Are we to suppose that that shadowy senate, the Labour cabinet, are cogitating and digesting these weighty matters? As I understand it, no other worthy has been ordained and chief party policy grinder for the future. When it comes to ascertaining actual, specific Labour policy commitments, the ordinary woman and man are quite literally, forced to speak to the monkey, or fruitlessly inspect the organ. And in this case, its tattered, cognitively dissonant sign reading “this is not an instrument.”

Even the hint of a policy for we proles in the cheap seats might be nice, my Labouring loves. It’d show you still care.


  1. I'm afraid the monkey has been spanked beyond reasonable wear and is close to extinction.

  2. Hmm, organ, grinder, Balls, there's a joke there, somewhere...