Labour in trouble – beware of the backlash


by G.A.Ponsonby

As Labour lurch from U turn to U turn, leaderless (unless you count Ed Miliband) and with a manifesto in meltdown, the party in Scotland looks down and out.

The recent party conference in Glasgow was all but ignored by the Scottish media in a move that demonstrates that things are not right inside Scottish Labour HQ.  When the loyal supporters fail to cheer then there is something seriously wrong with the team.

The lack of coverage of Iain Gray’s showcase is further proof, if it were needed, that the leader of the Holyrood Labour group is now considered a liability – no publicity deemed preferable to over exposure.

Do not be fooled by the contrived and hysterically funny accusations of BBC bias claimed by Labour and reported obligingly by the in-house rag the Daily Record, this is a party only too happy to keep the man who is arguably Europe’s weakest ‘leader’ from public view.

The decision by the BBC meant that Mr Gray was spared the opportunity to explain just why new nuclear power stations are a good thing in the country blessed with an abundance of renewable energy.

It also, fortuitously, ensured that Mr Gray escaped real scrutiny over recent U-turns, which meant the Scottish electorate were denied the opportunity to hear him explain just what it was that convinced him that the council tax freeze was actually a good thing and not the undemocratic benefit for the rich that Labour had previously claimed.

He went from this:
“[The SNP] always knew it was unsustainable and underfunded …  John Swinney needs to remove the gun from councillor’s head and give them the freedom to protect our children’s education and other vital services …  Alex Salmond and John Swinney have taken short term decisions which now threaten the viability of our local services.  This is a mess created by the SNP.”

to this:
“In just over two weeks, more cuts to child benefit, tax credits and support for families kick in.  So Labour will be on the side of fairness.  Labour will freeze council tax for the next two years.”

… and later at his party conference:
“A freeze in council tax to alleviate some of the pressure families face on their household budgets …”

If you thought it was just Iain Gray who took this particular tax grenade and inadvertently threw the pin at the SNP then think again.  The shrapnel has embedded itself in the backsides of the whole Labour movement in Scotland as you can see from the list below:

Michael McMahon, Labour’s local government spokesman, said of the council tax freeze: “The SNP have ridden roughshod over Cosla instead of negotiating with them.  Councils are being used as cover by the SNP, who are promising something that isn’t theirs to deliver.”

Labour councillor Pat Watters, president of council umbrella group Cosla, said he was frustrated that Alex Salmond and SNP ministers continued to “tout the fallacy” they can maintain the freeze until 2012-13, as they pledged to do.  Mr Watters said: “They simply can’t and it is outrageous that they should continue to mislead the public that they can,”

Gordon Matheson, Labour leader of Glasgow City Council, became the first council head to call publicly for an end to the freeze.  In a letter to John Swinney, Matheson said the policy was “unsustainable” and would result in “extremely damaging” cuts and added: “While no-one wants to raise tax, the impact on services of not doing so would be catastrophic.”

Dave Whitton, Labour MSP said: “I believe that the SNP will pay a price at the ballot box next year for treating the electorate with so little respect.  It might think that it has done enough by maintaining the council tax freeze, but all that that does is to hide cuts and job losses behind smokescreens and mirrors.”

Andy Kerr in his speech to the Labour conference in 2010 said: “I know some welcomed the concordat and promises made over the council tax freeze.  But Labour stands today, as it has in the past, on the simple platform that what Government asks of local councils it must fund … We believe that taxation to pay for local services should be set locally, reacting to local needs.”

Dave Watson, Unison’s Scottish organiser, said: “Local authorities should be able to raise funds through the council tax.”

Interesting collection of opinions which I am sure were strongly held, however if you think the Scottish media will go after any of these people to ask if they still hold the same views then think again.  For the good old Scottish media, in an extraordinary coincidence, adopted similar views.

Here is the headline of an editorial from The Herald newspaper:
Thaw in freeze can’t be ruled out

And this from the same paper:
Fresh SNP council tax freeze will subsidise mansions

Then there’s this from the Scotsman:
Council tax freeze ‘risks jobs of 1,500 teachers’
It also contains the old ‘flagship policy’ for good measure.

You get the picture.  The U-turn has caught them all out and the suspicion is that London’s hand is now very evidently up the backside of the Scottish Labour glove puppet.

As for the BBC, they couldn’t even bring themselves to use the dreaded U-turn phrase, describing Gray’s conversion as an ‘apparent change of direction’ (apparent?).
Scots Labour leader Gray promises council tax freeze

So how do they handle the adoption by Labour of an SNP ‘flagship policy’ they all thought damaging?  Simple, they’ll do the same thing they always do and pretend it didn’t happen.  The Labour party in Scotland is a strange beast, not so much a left leaning political party but more a Unionist cult secretly influencing every part of Scottish society and rewarding loyal disciples handsomely.

Scotland you see is unique in the democratic free world, in that it has the only government formed by a party who have no mainstream media support.  For that reason Nationalists will not be celebrating the demise of the Labour beast in Scotland; slay the Labour party head and the media head still roars.

That’s why SNP supporters are now steeling themselves for the media backlash that is certain to follow this dreadful period for Labour.

Headlines over the last few days have served to indicate that the media are also concerned that their continued insistence that Labour were a shoe in for the election is not being swallowed by the Scottish electorate.

The Scotsman’s ‘Labour to win but SNP better’ headline is an indication of the confusion and concern that pervades the Unionist dominated media outlets, the Scotsman still hold copyright on the ‘SNP Accused’ cliché headline and ‘SNP flagship policy’ phrase that usually precedes the words ‘in tatters’.

On Thursday the paper had a clumsy, almost nonsensical, headline that read ‘Budget: £15m bail-out by taxpayer averts threat of classroom strike action, for now’.  What did it have to do with the budget?  Your guess is as good as mine, but it sat atop a story that turned out to be about a deal brokered by the Scottish government that saved teaching jobs.  Or to put it in ‘Scotsman Speak’: “The Scottish Government has been forced to step in with a £15 million emergency cash injection to stave off a threat of a national strike in schools.” … forced indeed.

The Daily Record dipped its toe in the river of smear with an equally ludicrous piece that informed readers that the SNP would again use the ‘Alex Salmond for First Minister’ description on the ballot “despite the move causing chaos at the last Holyrood election”.  The fact that the move didn’t cause the chaos at all (it was caused by holding the council ballot on the same day and problems with the counting machines) didn’t matter, the ‘broken’ Record printed the misleading drivel anyway.

But we shouldn’t get too concerned with what appears in the Scottish press.  For the ability of Scottish newspapers to influence the election result has diminished markedly since 2007.

Circulation amongst all Scottish titles has dropped significantly as all have spurned the obvious business advantage to be had by being the first major paper to endorse the SNP.  And no, a single editorial every four years, 24 hours before the polls open doesn’t count.

The more potent response therefore will be left to the organisation that can best promote the Union line and the one that has shown no fears when it comes to manipulating news output in order to, how shall we say, lessen the impact of the independence argument.

The BBC in Scotland has improved its political coverage slightly in recent months.  The disappearance of Glenn Campbell and the emergence of Isobel Fraser has at least allowed viewers to see scrutiny of both parties in equal measure.

But for every Isobel Fraser there seems to be three Catriona Rentons.  Also Derek Bateman’s excellent Saturday morning Cinderella show Newsweek Scotland is outnumbered by that ugly sister of Scottish news Reporting Scotland.  ‘Distorting’ Scotland it has been cruelly renamed by many of a nationalist persuasion.

There remain serious doubts over the ability or even desire of the state broadcaster to provide a politically neutral platform when the Holyrood campaign gets into full swing.  Suspicions that the campaign TV debates are being recorded in order to ensure Iain Gray’s more embarrassing gaffes are edited out are rife.

Moreover, there is a notable reluctance to use the word ‘Labour’ in news bulletins and headlines when reporting on damaging stories for the party.  Witness the recent tribulations over Labour MP Jim Devine who was routinely described by BBC Scotland presenters as a ‘Livingston MP’ and of course any story about a Glasgow Labour councillor regularly uses the euphemism ‘Glasgow councillor’.

So as the Holyrood campaign gets underway we should all cast a beady eye on the Pacific Quay gang to make sure they don’t get up to their old tricks.

Tricks that include confronting SNP politicians with a bogus poll, as Jeremy Paxman did when questioning Alex Salmond prior to the 2007 election in a live TV debate.

Allowing former Labour activists to make baseless allegations against the SNP moments before a live TV debate, as Glenn Campbell did on the Politics Show prior to the Glasgow East by-election.

Attributing comments to SNP politicians that they did not make, as happened with BBC reporter and former Labour councillor Ms Catriona Renton.

Having a news blackout on stories that damage Labour, as happened when Iain Gray caused a diplomatic row following remarks he made linking Montenegro with ethnic cleansing.

But best of all and the one that is rarely noticed is the ‘technical difficulty’ that means an SNP representative cannot be heard.

Keep your ears open and eyes peeled people.  It’s going to be a dirty contest.