by Paul Kavanagh
Murphy’s law is one of the immutable laws of nature. It states with an elegant scientific certainty that if a Scottish Labour politician drops the jeelie piece of the party’s internal review onto the electoral hopes of Ed Miliband, it will fall jeelie side down and they’ll be spending the next five hours trying to remove the stain before Ed gets home.
Meanwhile they’ve been so preoccupied that they forgot to take the Member for West of Scotland Safe Seat for walkies and he’s peed all over the hallway, and no one has given Labour’s pensioned-off peers their happy pills and they’re dribbling all over the sofa.
Ed’s already had a bad week. He needs the Murphy review to go well because he had a rough time at the hands of the trade unions. He’ll be so miffed when he finds out it’s all gone pear shaped that he’ll make those strange chopping movements with his hands that his media advisors tell him look decisive. Sadly they really make him look like one like one of those demented puppets from an old children’s TV programme, the sort we now know were written by people who were stoned out of their trees throughout the 1960s. He’s not so much Red Ed as a kind of adenoidal Captain Scarlett with a spaceship on a piece of string.
This week we saw Captain Scarlett on amphetamines as Ed addressed the TUC conference. He was telling the unions that he wouldn’t support strike action against Tory cuts, which is a bit like telling the Knights of St Columba that they should consider joining the Masons because they do a nicer buffet. It wasn’t going well. Ed’s chopping gestures were threatening to get out of control, causing injury to the front three rows in the conference centre. Half the union delegates were praying for Thunderbird 2 to arrive with Virgil to the rescue, the other half were plotting where to find scissors to cut Ed’s strings.
Without the support of the unions, Ed’s prospects of getting the key to No 10 depends even more heavily on the party doing well in Scotland. Scots and the unions have traditionally been the two groups whose votes Labour could rely on no matter how much the party crapped on them. So it was all the more important that the party’s Scottish review went well. Scotland’s role in Labour’s eyes is to act as Ed’s springboard into power in Westminster. Labour sees Holyrood not as the democratic voice of the Scottish people but rather as a sort of giant bouncy castle full of inflated Labour egos. At least they have the second part of that right.
But it’s only been a few days and the vultures are circling. Already figures in the Labour party are distancing themselves from the Murphy review like members of Edinburgh council’s transport committee being presented with a tram bill.
The MP for East Kilbride Michael McCann led a chorus of protests from Labour’s dinosaur faction, objecting that the review’s proposals left no room for a pterodactyl to land and threatened to knock tyrannosaurus rex off its position at the top of the food chain. It was those pesky little Holyrood rodents that got us into this mess, he harrumphed, and now the whole party was expected to pay for the installation of a hamster’s wheel. Labour’s defeat in the May election had nothing to do with them having rubbish policies which were dictated from London and everything to do with the lack of gravitas in Holyrood compared to the stellar talents of Magrit Curran and Baron Salwar’s wee boy who grace the benches of Westminster. Michael is confused on the distinction between gravitas and a well-upholstered backside paid for on expenses and secured by party connections.
Michael is not averse to using his own gravitas to further good causes. In February, the BBC noted that when he was a councillor and member of South Lanarkshire’s planning and estates committee he had on numerous occasions supported planning applications put forward by his good pal property developer and Labour party donor James Kean, omitting to mention that they were best buddies. As an MP Michael wrote a long and detailed letter to Scottish Enterprise, intervening in a planning application that could see his pal benefit to the tune of a few million quid. The letter concerned a bid by Asda to build a supermarket in East Kilbride and detailed 33 questions opposing it. Had the deal gone through it would have put the kybosh on a deal Mr Kean was planning with rival Tesco.
Of course nothing untoward is being alleged. Heaven forfend you should even think such a thing. Michael has gravitas, remember, and simply prefers Tesco own-brand beans to the Asda variety. But perhaps if Labour devoted as much energy and attention to the concerns and desires of ordinary Scottish voters as they do to those of millionaire property developers and donors to the Labour party they might not be held in quite the contempt that they are today. This point was strangely absent both from Murphy’s review and from Michael’s hysterical overreaction. But to be fair to him, any reduction in the standing of Labour’s Westminster MPs might have a serious effect on his ability to intervene in planning decisions about baked beans, so we can appreciate his concern.
Michael also asserted that the real reason Labour lost the May election was because they had adopted SNP policies. They’d obviously not adopted them very well mind, as the SNP also adopted SNP policies but did markedly better. This was because the SNP were more populist, Michael averred. This is why Michael has gravitas you see, as only from the lofty heights of Westminster could it be discerned that the SNP did better at the election because more people voted for them. Michael believes Labour ought to revert to being unpopulist as this will make them more popular.
It was left to Sarah Boyack to go on Newsnicht to tell Raymond Buchanan in a flat monotone voice how exciting these exciting changes were that were exciting her so much. Sounding like a tired parent trying to persuade the kiddies that a visit to the Thimble and Knitting Pattern Museum was much more fun than going to Alton Towers, she spoke with all the conviction of a Mormon missionary putting across the case for gay sex orgies and atheism.
Sarah told Raymond that the party has decided on radical changes hitherto unseen in Labour history and they planned to redecorate John Smith House in some lovely new wallpaper from IKEA and tart up the soft furnishings. They may also possibly move the potted plants, but that will depend upon the agreement of the Westminster party. The BBC demonstrated its commitment to holding all political parties equally to account when Raymond raised an eyebrow at the notion that the Busy Lizzie would look better in the foyer.
At least the Tories were imaginative enough to say that they wanted a whole new name for their party, even if they weren’t quite imaginative enough to think of one just at the moment. Complex concepts are a bit much for Scottish Tories, and they’re still waiting to get the Scrabble set back from Michael Gove so they can rearrange the tiles in order to find a new title. Murdo Fraser would like a name with z’s and x’s in it, as these are high scoring letters and will assuredly increase the Tories’ vote share.
The Tories have been driven to such desperate measures since they’re represented in Westminster by English public schoolboys who bray like epileptic donkeys on a nitrous-oxide ventilator when Scots ask things like: “Well why can’t Scotland control its own oil revenues then?” Cameron thinks this is a stupid question that deserves a stupid answer. Just the other week Cameron warned us uppity Scots that his “respect agenda” cut both ways. We know, Dave. We know.
The Tories in Scotland have much to distance themselves from, but when it comes to putting a few light years between themselves and unpopular policies and colleagues the Tories are rank amateurs compared to Jim Murphy, of whom there’s been no verified sighting since Labour’s review was launched.
Jim Murphy did find time to grandly tell us in a press release issued in a plain brown envelope with no return address that Labour would no longer be the Scottish Labour Party, but Scotland’s Labour Party. That makes all the difference then. In Labour’s next manifesto we can look forward to a proposal to change the name British Telecom to Britain’s Telecom as this will reduce phone bills and will allow us to speak to a real live human being when we phone in to complain. But other than his hit-and-run press release there’s been nary a word from the bold Jim.
Murphy hasn’t said anything to support, defend, or even acknowledge the existence of the review that’s got his name on it. Jim Murphy’s greatest talent by far is putting a distance between himself and a political car crash. He’s even capable of distancing himself from himself, which has a quantum warp effect on space and time. This is Murphy’s second law.
The reason he’s currently invisible is that he’s passed into a strange topsy-turvy alternate reality where Ed Miliband is Iron Man, Ed Balls has never said a bad word about anyone, Michael Martin is erudite and articulate, there really is a positive case to be made for the Union, and people outside BBC Scotland take the Labour party seriously. Jim quite likes it there. If we’re really lucky, the fabric of the universe will not twang like a knicker elastic and snap him back into a television studio on Pacific Quay.