by Paul Kavanagh
In a damp Clydebank yesterday morning the launch of the Labour manifesto for the Holyrood election did not get off to an auspicious start. The fire alarm went off at Clydebank College just before the launch was due to begin, and the building had to be cleared by concerned security staff. The over-sensitive alarm system thought it had detected a destructive fire that would consume all in its path. But it was actually the puffy red faces and hot air of the massed ranks of Labour councillors and activists posing as members of the public. Easy mistake to make.
It was a gaffe prone launch. Ideal for a gaffe prone party. Earlier in the day panicked party officials had noticed a typo on page 68 of the manifesto, and aware of the Tory lack of focussss on such matters, rushed to correct it. The passage in question meant to say that Labour would get rid of “the failed Scottish Futures Trust”. But it said something else in the first version, it read: “Scottish Labour is committed to scrapping the failed Scottish Labour.” They should have kept that in, it would have been a real vote winner.
After being allowed back into the building, the real star of the show made his appearance and the drama began. Well OK. I say ‘star’, I say ‘drama’, but this is Labour here, and we must always remember that with Labour we are measuring from a very low baseline. Wendy Alexander really did have a galactic intelligence when compared to other Labour MSPs, it’s just that in this case we are referring to galaxy the chocolate bar, with added nuts and fruitcake.
Five year olds in a school nativity play have greater star charisma and dramatic potential than Iain Gray. And usually make a better fist of delivering their lines too. But just as Iain was delivering his lines, which he’d spent hours practising in front of the mirror the night before, he was being bitch-slapped by a proper actor. Brian Cox, Dundee’s big name in Hollywood, and voice of the Labour party political broadcast in the 2010 Westminster General Election, announced that he’d be supporting the SNP this time round. Because Labour in Scotland is rubbish, a fact discernible even from far away Tinsel Town where they know thing or two about presentation and packaging. Meanwhile at the Labour manifesto launch they allowed Iain Gray to be photographed with a bunch of red balloons. And Andy Kerr, Jackie Baillie and the good barons Foulkes and Martin weren’t even in the photie.
It’s not really clear why Gray got the gig as Labour spokeswonk. It’s not like he’s actually party leader or anything. He just reads the lines that Mr Ed M, the talking horse in Westminster, tells him to read. Poor Iain. A political career reduced to being the back end of a nag. Despite the unintentionally hilarious attempts of fawning Unionist journos to portray Iain as saintlike in his devotion to rescuing lost puppies and helping old ladies to cross the road, he still comes across like Quagmire from Family Guy, only with poorer social skills.
Gray’s sole qualification for the post of leader of the Labour group at Holyrood is apparently an ability to ask waiters in Portuguese restaurants for duas cervejas por favor. He speaks Portuguese, as he memorably informed us in a Newsnicht interview in a vain attempt to deflect Gordon Brewer from asking him why Labour was attempting to hold two contradictory policies at the same time. With Labour in charge it is possibly just as well that Holyrood’s ability to represent Scotland to the wider world is strictly limited to Iain Gray ordering a couple of beers in the Algarve. The average Labour MSP’s idea of talking to foreigners and constituents is to shout loudly. This is their sole tactic in Holyrood debates too. It also promises to be the tactic Labour will adopt in dealing with the Con-Dem administration in Westminster if we are so unfortunate as to see them returned to office. Shouting, accompanied by finger pointing. Followed by sulking. Followed by the claim, “It wisnae us. Bad boys done it and ran away.” Iain Gray can say that in Portuguese, which will no doubt assist him immensely in negotiations with the multilingual and multi-faced Nick Clegg.
But there’s no sign that Labour understands the difference between principle and populism. The truest words of all came when Gray proudly announced that the party was on a moral quest in this election. That explains a lot then. The Labour party lost its morals a very long time ago. A Dungeon and Dragons style quest to find some new ones sounds like an excellent idea, they’ve still got Gordon’s compass lying around somewhere to get them started. The party’s team wouldn’t even have to invent goblin personas, they could just come as they are. Andy Kerr could be troll master and Jackie Baillie could discover her true calling as an orc.
The manifesto is a bit of a damp squib, it’s the Iain Gray of literature. And it hadn’t even been left out in the rain when the fire alarm went off. Its dampness is intrinsic. The cover of the manifesto is in a pretty shade of red. It’s the only socialist thing about the document. The contents are a rehash of the same stuff we always expect from Labour, promises of jam tomorrow and the racing certainty that we’ll get toxic sludge today. It was all served up in the rich fruity goodness of get-out clauses and qualifications, and with no sign that any of this can be paid for, except possibly by getting a refund on the jam jar.
There was jam enough to keep a Dundee factory in production for oooh, at least a jar’s worth. Unfortunately the jam jar price label and ingredients list had come off in the rain, meaning we are unable to see precisely how much rich fruity goodness the product contains, and how much is chemical additives. But this is Labour jam, so we know it’s as mythical as a moral quest and is made up in equal parts of ideas nicked from other parties, wishful thinking, and blame directed at the bad boys who’d done it and ran away.
To watch Labour in action is to experience what it must be like to develop dementia. The past is forgotten, the ability to plan for the future gone for good. The party lives in the moment, forever seeking any idea, any policy, any bright and shiny bauble that sounds remotely plausible, just in order to convince the rest of us that it hasn’t already declined into terminal incontinence, even though the reek of its soiled underwear pollutes the air for miles around.
The cuts to government spending are entirely the fault of the wicked Tories aided and abetted by the SNP, and nothing whatsoever to do with the party that was in power for 13 years while Labour encouraged the banking system to go off on a Dungeons and Dragons fantasy quest of its own. Policies are presented without any recognition that Labour bitterly opposed them just a few short months ago. New Labour was just a bad dream that didn’t really happen. Tony Blair? Gordon Brown? Never heard of them. Labour believes in a more equal society, Gray earnestly tells us, hoping we’re oblivious to the fact that child poverty and the gap between the richest and poorest increased under Labour as a direct result of their economic policies.
Gray preferred to concentrate on reminding the voters of the nightmare of Thatcherism, conveniently overlooking the uncomfortable truth that his party was as much use when it came to protecting Scotland from the Iron Lady’s axe as canned farts are as air-fresheners. But there are a lot of canned farts in the Labour party, and Martin, Foulkes and McConnell have to be kept in expenses payments somehow.
I half expected the proceedings to be interrupted by a kindly care worker who would prompt our memories with group singing while we all had a nice cup of tea and a Labour piece and jam. But no. Instead we got promises to create jobs, a quarter of a million of them. More than there are unemployed people in Scotland, we can bus in folk from the North of England to take up the slack. Labour are already experienced in this, as it’s the only way they can get enough activists on the ground to fight an election. The Scottish party continues to leak membership like a Japanese nuclear plant leaks radioactive particles, wreaking havoc as it progresses to inevitable meltdown.
Labour will pay for all this, and more, by making ‘efficiency savings’ worth £4.8 billion. The precise nature of the savings was left unsaid, although it’s a safe bet it won’t include savings on expenses claims, ALEO payments to Glasgow councillors, or spending on ‘think tanks’ and ‘consultancies’ run by canned farts.
Meanwhile the real policies we’ll see in Labour’s Scotland went unsaid too. No mention of the transfer of planning permission back to Westminster so Scotland can become the dumping ground for English nuclear waste. No mention of nuclear, weapons or power plants, both of which Labour thinks are a good idea. And certainly no mention of the cronyism, clientelism and mutual backscratching that defines Labour operations and has become the party’s sole raison d’etre.
Labour has reverted to a childish senescence, still seeing itself as the enriched uranium that will fuel Harold Wilson’s white heat of technological progress. But parties which exist solely to enrich the careers of a clique have a very short half-life, and Labour has long since decayed into a poisonous slurry of radioactive particles that contaminates all it touches.
Once every four years it is poured into a jar and called jam.