3 March 2010

Purcell: a bright star among red dwarfs?

"Bright star! Would I were steadfast as thou art -
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night..."
- John Keats, from "Bright Star!"

I don’t propose to say much on Steven Purcell – partly because I can hardly make head nor tail of the half-commentary and dulcet innuendo going on in the press. On one hand Purcell’s departure from his Heidship of Glasgow Cooncil has been met by a constellation of stellar metaphors - his career’s expansion and contraction, its advancing luminosity exploding in an unanticipated supernova of stress (or being properly pert and Scots-reductive, probably classified as a political mininova.)

Largely, the discourse on his magnitude has been comparative. Clustered around by Labour party red dwarfs – columnists and commentators have been admiring his superior light. Maybe you have to meet him. He never struck me as particularly interesting or engaging or sagacious on the telly. Certainly, not a full-throated member of the familiar toad chorus of Labour gentlemen – your Michael McMahons, Paul Martins, James Kellys, Duncan McNeils. More sagacious, absolutely, less of the visceral, amphibian tribalism which is fit only for bellyflopping in the mire and turning in its expense receipts. Whoop de doo. That is an attainment most of the educated population thoughtlessly achieves. Purcell’s lone splendour, then, is a grim essay on how effectively benighted Scottish Labour remains. His encomiums testament to the pervasive mediocrity, the fatuousness of its elected deputies, its betrayal of a better history. From this low-slung frog-perspective, a bare lightbulb might seem like a coruscating distant sun, its promise more willow the wisp than new star rising.

That said, the detail of Purcell’s mental state is none of my chuffing business. At least insofar as he hasn’t been buying hooch or highs on the public penny; or indulging in rampant corruption or pervasive incompetence from his seat in the City Chambers. Whatever the private truth, and I don’t give a fig, the air of prudery and self-satisfied sarcasm at the man’s expense is nauseating.


  1. Good post. The level of praise for Mr Purcell has been disproportionate. He was youngish. He spoke fairly coherently and he was gay - albeit completely repressed by his religion. Politically, are we really to believe that he reached the top of Glagow City Council Labour Group because of these qualities? Or did he, like every leader before him, have to build alliances and get in with the right people? As for his achievements in office, well, what did he do that was so very different from Pat Lally, Jean McFadden, even Frank MacAveety? They all placed themselves in the reformist, modernising camp, working to boost the city's image through culture and collaborating with the private sector. Purcell made noises about reforming schools, but there is absolutely not change in educational attainment. What he will be remembered for is his enthusiasm for PPP which has saddled us with gut wrenching debt, and his willingness to split Scotland by talking up a non existent Glasgow v the rest divide. I'm not saying he did a bad job. Just that he was not the supernova commentators seem to be suggesting.

  2. Saw the film about Keats a couple of week-ends ago, called Bright Star.

    Purcell, when and if he sorts this out would be, IMHO. just the an to lead new Scottish Labour Party. No, no the North Britishshire su section of the M25 other ship, a real Scottish Labour Party, probably only post independence mind you.

    However, I am at a loss to name the rest of his cabinet. He will need to cull most of the incumbent usual suspects to start with. Perhaps his fellow travellers are still at school or Uni or in work and would never think of being in the same room as the current lot.

  3. Buggered M key, you work out the code.

  4. Its rather odd that no-one in Labour (apart from the media) is calling him a star.

    Indeed all the get well soons appear to be coming from the nationalists.

  5. Joan,

    Thanks for the remarks. The whole sexuality thing is a point on which I'm conflicted. In many ways, with Purcell, I'm glad we don't generally remark on it, generally glad that this seems to denote an appropriate, healthsome idea that sexual object choice is a matter which goes beyond my ratepayer claims over my deputies, whether in local or national government. On the fulsome praise - we might theorise that the sickly excess in that quarter is also reflective of my central thesis - that Purcell was a lonely dauphin in the Scottish Labour Party. By politically catching his death, the praise is correspondingly inflated, half out of surprise, half because it is exceptional in a dull-dog field of mediocrity.

    Intuitively, I tend to agree with your suggestion. This is not to assail the dry competence of the man - merely to speculate on the gusty admiration which has been exchanged in public over the last day or two.

  6. With the chap who was in Perfume, Bugger? Ben Whishaw, was it? Although Keats isn't my favourite poet, not even my favourite poet of his period, he does have his moments.

    As to Purcell, you are a particular fan? Certainly, Gray has the feel of a soul, performing almost wholly inauthentically, animated by a fell demon who is pushing him towards oblivion, just as he convinces him that behaving in a devilish way is politically necessary. Unfortunate primarily for Gray that, secondarily for the nation, since he is squandering whatever good he has in him. You do raise an interesting detail about disappearing incumbents. Some time last year, I suggested that Labour was in want of a cull - that it needs to elevate the average standard of its representatives. Now, with several of the old guard sodding off - there is a real possibility for renewal. While we might focus on the negative, who knows? Perhaps there are conscientious Scottish Labour politicians loitering in the wings, ready to make their great soliloquies of justice, out in front.

    I for one need convincing of that. I'd be delighted if it were true.

  7. On one level Ratzo, certainly. "Formal" Labour sources are suspiciously mute. On a blogging level, who the devil is out there? Little Yousuf well instructed, and Kezia who barely posts at all.

    The Scottish Labour party are functionally mute up here.

  8. LPW

    I am a bit of a Maverick myself and see that in Purcell.

    Mavericks always live life at one envelope or other, usually multiple.

    The man has a lot of good in him and I hope for the common good he can be allowed to express it.

  9. Oh Perfume sorry, I never saw it. I actually saw Bright Star in a French cinema in English but with French sub-titles.

    I did think that Yates' mentor's Scottish accent started abysmally nut became closer to pure dead Glesga as the fillum wore on. Mrs Panda had a few French tears in her een the end.

    On your point re my "cull" prerequisite, the Labour Party is so hopelessly corrupt that anybody a current intake level is naturally triaged to be a drone. Yapping Yusef is a particular cheerleader there but may have it in him to see the light of day. The rest are all graduate drone of Social Work Departments of Universities who, curiously enough usually never do frontline work, they teach those bees.

    It will take a generation at least. Purcell, if he coe out of it will be in his 50s.

  10. Up here the Labour Party is certifiably "Brain Dead"

  11. Actors trying their tonsils at Scottish accents in films are almost invariably things of dread. They can ruin (at least for me, and probably for many fellow Scots who can tell the difference) even well-scripted, thematically interesting pieces - usually due to their misplaced Glesga refrain, which seems to appear wherever the character is supposed to have originated.