Labour’s gift of the gaffe

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by Paul Kavanagh

Labour and Iain Gray have the gift of the gaffe.  And it’s a gift that just keeps on giving.  They came thick and fast this week.  It would be cruel of me to detail them again, but it would be a dreadful waste of a Scottish renewable resource not to milk Iain Gray’s Labour party for all the laughs they are worth.  Comedy value is the only value they provide after all.    

Fresh from their fire-alarm interrupted manifesto promise to “abolish the failed Scottish Labour party”, the Labour campaign was only just starting when Iain Gray and Magret Curran ran into the buffers at Glasgow Central station, colliding with a train of anti-cuts demonstrators.

To add yet more layers of rich comedy value, the protesters were campaigning against Tory cuts of the evil Thatcherite hobgoblin variety.   The kind that Iain has been obsessing about since 1979.  Any self-respecting fantastist of the Forces of Light would have seized upon such voters with open arms as fellow travellers in the Labour Moral Quest ™.  But not Iain and Magret.   La Curran made a few attempts to remove the protesters’ placards, non-Labour led dissent is not permitted, but she was zippily out-manoeuvred by an elderly grannie with a zimmer frame.  The Labour campaign team quickly scuttled off just as fast as their wee legs could carry them, followed by a small crowd of unimpressed demonstrators.

They hid out in a Subway sandwich bar.  Labour instinct took them there.  Iain and Magret needed jam to offer the angry voters.  Where else but a shop that sells jeely pieces?  Subway’s menu would be chock full of bread products they could stick in the Labour manifesto to placate the voters.  But alas the protestors could not be calmed with Iain’s stale cheesy bap, and Magret Curran’s hamming up the pan loaf has never convinced anyone.  Iain and Magret made a hurried dash for a taxi,  asylum seekers from public mockery.

The Glasgow Central cheese ham and pickle pogrom allowed Iain to indulge his penchant for portraying himself as a doughty warrior in wars that are over.  Safely esconced far away from actual voters, he gravely informed a sympathetic TV microphone that he’d resolutely faced down genocidal warlords in Rwanda and mass murderers in Mozambique, he’d trodden the killing fields of Cambodia and was unbowed by challenges.  

I had visions of Iain Gray as head of a crack team of SAS commandos.  But alas in the real world the closest Iain Gray has come to the SAS is asking the cabin crew on a Scandinavian Airlines flight for another cheesy bap.  Mind you, gay Swedish cabin stewards can give such nasty looks.

But what Iain didn’t say was that he was visiting those countries in his capacity as head of campaigning for a Scottish charity.  Voluntary organisations don’t send their office staff into combat roles in front line battle zones on account of Health and Safety.  People who need to be supervised when they use the stapler aren’t allowed near hand grenades, and even Andy Kerr doesn’t want to criminalise people for possession of an offensive pencil sharpener.  

But that wasn’t Iain’s presentational problem.  The real problem was that he was telling the world how doughty he was in facing down wicked warlords from Rwanda and mass murderers from Mozambique just after he and Margaret Curran had resolutely run away from worried workers from Ruchazie and a mass of mothers from Milton whom they’d attempted to fight off with baguettes and breadsticks.  Not so much doughty as dough heid then.  

The protestors were even less placated when they realised they’d been compared to genocidal maniacs from Rwanda and mass murderers from Mozamique.  Rumour has it that the demonstrators are stocking up in Greggs the bakers for their next encounter and will assail Iain with the jam doughnut of truth and the yum-yums of democracy.

Meanwhile, Andy Kerr did his best impression of a space hopper as he bounced through an interview on Newsnicht with Gordon Brewer.  It was an exercise in surrealism that would have made Salvador Dali rip off his silly moustache in frustration as he realised he was no match in the absurd for Andy Kerr.  As Brewer carefully, in very short sentences using very small words, dissected the many contradictions in Kerr’s knife crime policy, Kerr nodded enthusiastically in agreement.  “Thank you for making my point for me Gordon,”  he bounced, oblivious to the fact that the point Gordon was making was that Andy Kerr was a bit of a balloon.

The following day Kerr’s costings were denounced as fantasy.  The figures Kerr presented claimed that his proposals would save the NHS in Scotland over £3 bn, which translates into each victim of knife crime costing the NHS over £800,000 a day.  Andy had obviously confused the average cost of a night in an NHS hospital with Jim Devine’s expense claims for overnight accommodation.  It’s an easy mistake for a Labour politician to make.

It was so bad that Labour was forced to plant one of its the-SNP-will-eat-your-babies stories in the press on Saturday.  The Torygraph helpfully published a document obtained by a Freedom of Information request which claimed to show that the SNP was hiding a plan to slap a Local Income Tax of £500 extra a year, or £5000 squillion in Andy Kerr figures, on the unsuspecting Scottish public.  

The BBC gleefully leapt on the news, relieved of the distraction from its public obligation to report on Labour’s encounter with the bakery products of death.  Oddly the unbiased BBC neglected to point out that the SNP is committed to maintaining the freeze on Council Tax for the duration of the next Parliament, any SNP proposals regarding Local Income Tax would only be relevant in the election campaign after this one, and even then the party has promised to involve all the other parties in discussion before any proposals are put forward.  But we mustn’t let that get in the way of a story that allows the Record to publish photies of starving weans with their noses pressed up against the windows of Subway Sandwiches, denied their jeely pieces by the evil SNP.   

The Labour campaign got off to an alarming start, and has since proven so inept and so clueless, that even the Scotland on Sunday, stablemate of that august Unionist organ the Scotsman, published a lead editorial which was a blistering attack on Gray, saying he insulted the intelligence of the Scottish electorate with his crude attempt to turn the election into a battle between the Forces of Goodness and Light (that would be Iain) and the evil hobgoblins of Thatcherism.  “Iain Gray has been flogging this dead horse since the days when Labour was in power at Westminster,” sniffed Scotland on Sunday.

Scotland on Sunday tartly reminded the hapless Iain: “This is not a Westminster election, this is an election for the Scottish Parliament.  This is not Labour against the Tory cuts, they are already against the Tory/Lib Dem cuts in Westminster and a fat lot of good it is doing anyone.”

Coming from a publishing house that’s never been afraid to appeal to the lowest Unionist common denominator, that’s pretty scathing stuff.  The worm is turning.  The tame Unionist press turning on Iain is like elderly nuns swearing at the Pope.   I had to go and have a wee lie down after reading it.