Commentary by Hugh Kerr
Jim Murphy launched his leadership campaign on Saturday morning in the somehow appropriately named King Khalid Building of the Surgeons’ Hall, Edinburgh.
Older readers will remember King Khalid was the King of Saudi Arabia, responsible for the biggest-ever arms deal between the UK and any foreign government. It was a deal which British Aerospace gained by extensive bribery of Saudi officials.
Jim of course previously was a defence minister under Tony Blair and was a great supporter of the deal, and may have been relieved when Blair stopped the subsequent inquiry by the Serious Fraud Office into the alleged corruption because “it was against national security”. So it may have been very appropriate for Jim to feel quite at home in the King Khalid hall!
He launched his campaign to an enthusiastic audience of invited Labour supporters. My friend Craig Murray (our ex ambassador to Uzbekistan, sacked by Jack Straw for protesting about torture) accompanied me to the coffee session preceding the launch. He had the rather surreal experience of being greeted by Jim with “great to see you again, thank you so much for coming”. Craig had never met Jim before.
Craig spoke to six people at the coffee hall before the meeting, and reported: “All of them said they were working for the Labour Party.” This is the reality of Labour in Scotland today; take away the staff of MPs, MSPs, MEPs and councillors and the party is a hollow shell.
They claim 13,000 members but a Labour source tells me that only 8,000 ballot papers were issued for the last ballot for MEP selection, so we might conclude that there are only 8,000 real members in Scotland. Jim was introduced by a new young student member, Shona, who sounded very like a character from a party political broadcast: “I want to help make a better Scotland for my children.”
His speech was a rather pedestrian pitch to the faithful, but very much from a left-wing perspective. He emphasised his humble origins, four generations living in a two-bedroom property in a Glasgow scheme and he had to sleep in his granny’s top drawer. His family had to move to South Africa for work, he said, but he came back to Scotland to avoid conscription. “I was poor in Scotland and white in South Africa, and that’s what made me a socialist,” he explained. Funnily enough he never mentioned his nine years as a student politician – he didn’t gain a degree, but he did get a Labour seat!
He spoke of the poverty, inequality and poor health of the people of Scotland, such as you would never have thought he had been part of a Labour Government for 13 years at Westminster, including a period as Secretary of State for Scotland. His comrades had also been in charge of Scotland at Holyrood for eight years while all these inequalities had been present!
It is clear from all this that he intends to reinvent himself as “Jim Murphy, Scottish and socialist”. Of course the irony about all the areas he outlined is that to abolish poverty, inequality and poor health you need to control all the levers of fiscal and social levers of taxation, social security and wealth. He will no doubt claim it is possible to abolish them with just a little more devolution.
I asked him a question about Trident: “Jim, when the Labour Party in Scotland were last allowed to discuss Trident they voted heavily against it> When you lead the Labour Party in Scotland what will your line be?”
He replied: “Hugh it’s nice to see you again. I read some of your stuff and enjoy some of it! Of course I want to get rid of all nuclear weapons but in this dangerous modern world when many countries like Iran are trying to get nuclear weapons it’s not a time for us to give them up.”
This of course is what I expected. Jim Murphy is not only an arch Blairite, he is a hawk on foreign policy, a keen supporter of the war on Iraq and Afghanistan. He urged the bombing of Syria last year when the House of Commons voted against it. Murphy is also closely connected to US interests as an advisor to the Henry Jackson Society, a right wing foreign policy group.
His audience of Labour full timers liked his answer but I suspect that his support of Trident will go down rather badly with the few socialists left in the party and many trade unionists who vote Labour. However the truth is that many of the individual members left in Labour are no longer socialists. Don’t forget that David Miliband and Ken Macintosh secured victories in the constituency and MPs’ section it was only the trade union vote that won the result for Ed and Johann. I suspect Neil Findlay will get a decent trade union vote but not a majority, and Sarah Boyack will get a decent number of MSPs’ votes, but not enough.
He was warm and effusive about his opponents for the leadership, but it is clear that he thinks is going to win and has no need to attack them.
I also think he is going to win. It is clear that he has a well organised team around him, including ex Better Together head Blair McDougall and John McTernan, the spin doctor who increasingly resembles the Malcolm Tucker character in TV’s “The Thick of It” (I think he will regard that as a compliment!)
Jim Murphy also has the party machine – official and unofficial – behind him. It makes for a formidable combination for Findlay or Boyack to overcome.
* Hugh Kerr is a former Labour Party member and Labour MEP.