Labour: Cynicism and contradiction on the road to Westminster

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By Derek Bateman

For those searching for reasons to explain the voting tsunami heading Labour’s way there is no better place to look than the contradictory nature of the party’s demeanour.

On the doorsteps of Govanhill and Possil, Labour is the friend of the working man, all head-shaking condemnation of the vicious Tories, but at Westminster, out of constituency sight, it is a comfortable fixture in the old Establishment, playing by the archaic rules, voting as told by the whips and accumulating the expenses in life-changing amounts.

The festering suspicion that Labour is a two-headed beast motivated out of self-interest has reached its apotheosis in the transformation of leader Jim Murphy from centre-right London-centric British player to proclaimer of newly-discovered Glasgow socialist roots decked in tartan – a conversion so stunning it should be confirmed with a baptismal dunking in the River Clyde.

But this strain of cynicism in which right-wing sympathies are camouflaged from the voters runs throughout modern Scottish Labour. The now widely-circulated film of John McTernan, New Labour Blairite disciple and now, with sub-West Wing conceit, ‘Chief of Staff’ to Murphy, is the proof of the counterfeit socialism Labour is now firing out like chaff to deflect criticism.

Remarks on the BBC’s Sunday Politics today by Labour MP Ian Murray continue this strand of thought. Murray said Labour would allow the Tories to form the government if they were the largest party, in preference to making an electoral deal with Nationalists. If that happened it wouldn’t just confirm the symbiosis of Tory and Labour parties but end for a generation any hopes Labour harbour of a return to popularity in Scotland.

John McTernan, Murphy's 'chief of staff', admires Thatcherite privatisation.
John McTernan, Murphy’s ‘chief of staff’, admires Thatcherite privatisation.

The McTernan film discovers a man proudly adhering to the philosophy of Thatcherism with all that implies even today to the ravaged communities and broken lives of de-industrialised Scotland. To tell Scots that she was right in her choices is to side with the elite in the class war – that what Britain needed was legal restrictions on unions to diminish workers’ rights, an economy based on financial services not manufacturing, the closure of the engineering industry in the Midlands, the end of steel making in Lanarkshire, the crushing of the miners and an end to the concept of solidarity in society.

McTernan declares himself in favour of many more areas of privatisation. Vote Tory, says Labour Top Official?

Of course, McTernan wasn’t addressing Labour voters on the doorstep in Govanhill or Possil – he was addressing the right-wing Policy Exchange in Manchester in another example of the absentee landlord approach to politics. The suspicion is that, not only is McTernan right wing by any rational standard, but that he will say whatever he imagines a paymaster wants to hear. This has an echo in Murphy’s current somersaults on policy that contradict everything he previously stood for. Needs must…

And it is in this area of untrustworthiness, of duplicity and cynical spin that Labour is damaged most. Voters are not turning away from the party because they don’t like individual policies – a reading of Miliband’s recent announcements makes progressive sense – nor because they are repelled by political personalities as such. Rather it is the gnawing feeling that they are being misled – lied to – by people wearing Labour colours but who back the Tories on the key issues of austerity, NHS privatisation, nuclear weapons and bending the knee to the bankers.

Here is all the proof they will ever need – a key backroom official guiding the Labour campaign and instructing MSPs – speaking only months before signing up with Murphy – proclaiming the victory of Tory policy and calling for more. Labour is caught in a lie of its own making and every attempt to ape the Nationalists exposes it further.

The McTernan movie in full (Jim Murphy’s chief of staff is at the far end of the table and doing most of the speaking):

Update:

The Labour Party’s capacity for crass behaviour was underlined by an intervention by the outgoing MP for Midlothian, David Hamilton, during a weekend speech to the Labour conference. His reference to First Minister Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t seem to amuse his party’s former Scottish leader, Johann Lamont MSP:

Note: Both clips have been made available on YouTube by Wings over Scotland.