13 April 2015

If the yolk sticks

If the yolk sticks. You would be hard pushed to invent a worse story for Jim Murphy and his Scottish and UK Labour colleagues, every which way you look at it. The Eds are anxious to establish their fiscal probity. They will never satisfy the baying hounds of the Tory press, but doughty little fiends that they are, they are desperate to show that they can "responsibly" hack away at the British state with the best of them. 

The usual suspects are itching for any opportunity or pretext to question Miliband's commitment to the deficit-frame of "fiscal probity". But the Labour leader held the line, with a cauld kale offering of cuts, interspersed with a few simple, positive, constructive ideas. A mean repast it may be, but compared to the ragged, personalised, unstrategic mess that is the Tory base campaign, you can rattle off a few clear and cogent Labour proposals on one hand. For voters of the left, much of this is robbed of its substance and vitality by the overarching commitment to the deficit fetish economics which Ed Balls has imbibed -- but there it is. Choices made. Lines drawn.

Mr Murphy's task is even trickier. He has deemed it expedient to tack to the left to restore Scottish Labour's ailing fortunes, keen to pin the SNP as careless cutters in contrast with his gloss on Labour economic plans as an "end to austerity". Simultaneously, Scottish Jim for Scotland has taken Scottish Henry McLeish's Scottish advice that Scottish Labour should embrace Scottish patriotism. He has also been struggling to cast off the acrylic uniform of the party's "branch manager", run up by tricoteuse and Murphy oustee, Johann Lamont, and to establish himself as the Heid Neep of Scottish Labour's warring vegetable rack of parliamentarians, divided by their jealousies, ambitions and contempts. 

Labour is onto two losing games here. If you want a chill hearted bastard to "balance the books", why vote Labour? Why go for the bloodless alternative? Why not back blue and get the real thing? Similarly, if you are the kind of voter animated by the idea of your representatives "standing up for Scotland", why back Labour over the SNP? Cram as many references to Scotland into your Twitter profile as you like, apply a patriotic gatling gun to your election literature - you are always going to be facing a Scottish National Party whose sole fealty is to the voters north of the border, without inconvenient colleagues with different and legitimate and incompatible political agendas in the rest of the country.

On austerity and the narrow Scottish interest -- it is a battle you can't win.  If Labour aspire to remain a - or the - national UK party, I'd have thought they'd be best to push back against this limited "patriotic" agenda, rather than embracing it. Which is a long-winded way of saying: both of these -- it seems to me -- are losing games for Scottish Labour to play. But poor Jim finds himself locked into, or has chosen to play, both hands. Cue broken eggs.

Today's "slapdown" by Labour's shadow business spokesman, Chuka Umunna, and Ed Balls, undermines just about everything that Jim Murphy has been agitating so antically to promote: Labour as an anti austerity alternative, his own office as robust, independent, "patriotic", in charge of the Scottish contingent in Westminster, paying the piper and calling the tune. But Chuka was having none of that, offering up this suspiciously quotable demolition of Mr Murphy's position to Andrew Neill this lunchtime. Gey generous it was of him too:

"The leader of the Scottish Labour Party will not be in charge of the UK budget. The leader of our country, our next prime minister, Ed Miliband, will be in charge of the UK budget and he has just answered the question, when that was put to him - will there be any cuts over the course of this parliament not just in the first financial year, but in the following financial years?  And he was absolutely clear - there will be the need for further consolidation and cuts throughout the rest of the parliament."

This doesn't even leave Mr Murphy the wriggle room to be a critical friend of the UK leadership, pursuing different priorities from within the UK Labour Party. If you want to give the Labour party the heart and stomach to pursue different priorities -- there is clearly no point backing Jim. Even his own senior colleagues apparently see him as an irrelevance, and do not have the good grace to conceal their indifference to his opinion from the public. 

Today's clash also helps to marginalise impressions of Mr Murphy's control over his own Westminster parliamentarians.  In principle, at least, Jim heads up the whole contingent of Scottish representatives -- but the Eds apparently regard his colleagues as their worker bees, to troop biddably through the lobbies in Westminster without reference to the manic pterodactyl (Alex Massie™). It is the old, unedited hubris. But it diminishes Jim to a cypher, to do as telt, again. Either the Scottish Labour leader a) misunderstood the nature of his UK colleagues' plans, or b) dissembled about it none too subtly, but whether a) or b) is the case, his point of view is dismissed as irrelevant. 

If Murphy cuts up rough, he gives the Tory press an enviable opportunity to chuck muck at Ed Miliband. If he doesn't, and keeps his tongue in his head, he looks craven, disingenuous, calculating, and ineffective. A fine day at the office, all around. Tonight, the frittatas are on Jim. 


  1. As Kevin McKenna has apparently just said on R4, Labour have now more or less openly given up on Scotland. The London leadership will concentrate on maximising their English and Welsh representation, knowing privately that the SNP will support a Labour Queen's speech. Policy concessions for SNP support can be wrangled over after the election.

    You can now fully understand Labour's lukewarm enthusiasm for devolution back in 1997. They probably knew then that a Holyrood parliament would create this schism in the party by demanding a Scot-centric approach in one house and a UK approach in the other. They knew that would cause problems because insiders knew how far to the right the UK party was headed. Their hope that PR in Scotland would prevent anyone but Labour from holding the reins was their fatal miscalculation. SNP government has forced Scottish Labour to try and be ever more Scottish with the resultant shambles we see today.

    An alternative take on your a/b explanation above is that a) Murphy was badly trained for his job at the circus, or b) he's gone rogue. Over the next 4 weeks we will either see the listless jumbo rocking back and forth, crushed by captivity, or his keepers frantically chasing him around with tranquilliser guns.

  2. 'craven, disingenuous, calculating, and ineffective.'
    Ooft! That's a jaggy bunnet, but if it fits...

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  4. Scottish Referendum

    "I've never been a Unionist. It's not my political tradition.

    "As a family of Irish Catholic immigrants we are not Unionists.

    Labour Manifesto Launch 13/04/2015

    Clarifying that Murphy does not decide Labour's financial policy,

    Umunna said: “The leader of the Scottish Labour Party will not be in charge of the UK budget.”

    Puts to bed forever Scottish Labour Party has autonomy from UK Labour Party

    That's so much more damaging than the cuts.

  5. Thank you for your biting article in today's National. Really enjoyed it.