Labour’s fightback: the grumble of the bumble


by Paul Kavanagh

Iain Gray launched Labour’s much anticipated fightback on Monday, making a pitch for the support of Scotland’s last two Liberal Democrat voters.  Labour had told us it was time they took the gloves off.  They were going to get nasty with the Nats who’d been playing dirty politics by actually having policies, principles and a positive message.

Labour believes this to be unfair, as they lost the last of their principles when they got rid of Clause 4, climbed into bed with Neo-Conservatives and abandoned any pretence they were socialist left wingers, except when campaiging in Scotland.  The opportunists of Labour are strangers to conviction politics and so find it difficult to campaign against a party which actually believes in something.  The only one of them who can truthfully claim to speak with any conviction is Jim Devine, and he’s not due out for a few months.

Labour’s campaign has displayed a marked absence of positivity.  It’s also displayed a marked absence of Jackie Baillie and Pauline McNeill, for which tiny blessing I get down on my knees every morning and thank the Lord.  And I’m an atheist.  But Labour thinks that revving up the negativity is going to turn things around.  Because that’s worked so well for them so far.

The venue was the Lighthouse Gallery in Mitchell Lane, tucked away between Mitchell St and Buchanan St.  Down an alley in the middle of Glasgow is a traditional venue for starting a dirty fight.  But Iain wasn’t waiting for Alex down the alley with a baseball bat.  Which was a pity, because Andy Kerr could have held his jaiket and actually done something helpful for the campaign at last.

Labour had cunningly held their relaunch high up on the fifth floor of the Lighthouse, it’s as close to heaven as they’re ever going to get and even the most het-up pogo-sticking anti-cuts protester can’t bounce that high.  The windows were securely fastened to prevent any suicide leaps amongst the assembled press.  

The great fight was about to begin. But there were no drum rolls, no smoke machines or fireworks as the Grumble of the Bumble began.  Instead of blood and tears we got crud and fear, the Thrillah of a Manilla envelope containing an appointment letter for the clap clinic.  

With the backbone of a soggy chip, the vigour of a vitamin deficient sloth and the determination of a bunny to stay trapped in the headlights, Iain laid into Eck.  It was thrilling stuff, but if only your definition of thrilling is a powerpoint presentation on the decay rates of radioactive nuclei, little points of nothingness spiralling off into the void and leaving behind a mutated poisonous mess for others to clear up.  Labour’s decay was evident as Iain went off on the party’s favourite tangent.  The SNP are evil.

We ooohed as Iain told us the SNP are dangerous, and will give out live hand grenades with every free prescription.

We aaahed as Iain told us a vote for the SNP would lead to independence, like it was a bad thing.

We zzzz’ed as Iain waffled on about something else.  

The main thrust of Iain’s attack were two SNP policies which aren’t actually going to happen as a result of this election.  The first is the SNP’s plans for Local Income Tax, which is going to cost the average Scottish family an amount equal to the national debt of Iceland every week, according to Andy Kerr’s arithmetic.  The Council Tax freeze promised by the SNP will last for the duration of the next parliament, but Iain’s looking ahead.  He’s a visionary you see.  He can see clear all the way to the nearest Subway Sandwich shop.

Then there was the legless arc of inprosperity, the one missing Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and just about every other country with a more stable economy than the UK’s.  A country like Norway, with its resources under the North Sea, vast renewable energy potential and its small and educated population who speak good English and espouse social democratic values isn’t a fair comparison with Scotland.  Scotland is home to the Killing Fields of Cambuslang.  Which is why Iain’s the man.  

Norway is always overlooked.  It’s Norway’s fate.  Never invited to nuclear weapons parties, bring your own WMDs.  Always last to be picked for a game of Let’s Invade Iraq.  Null points in Eurovision.  If Scotland was independent we would get null points in Eurovision too, but only if we were singing Labour’s tune.

Alex Salmond has no new ideas, Iain assured us.  We can give this a certain amount of credence as Iain is one of the first people to know if Alex has a new idea.  Iain follows Eck around nicking them as soon as the SNP announces them.

The SNP campaign is all a fantasy, said the man who’s promised to create more jobs than there are unemployed people in the country, and who’s going to pay for it by making 4 squillion in unexplained efficiency savings.  Andy Kerr did the arithmetic.  Niddrie will be renamed Narnia as the first act of a new Labour administration.

The heavyweights will be pitching in to help out.  Ed Balls, fresh from his visit to a scoosh factory in East Kilbride with Iain the other week, where he learned how to inject gas into cheap ingredients for profit, bounced back to tell us that independence would be a complete disaster.  This is true.  It would be a disaster for Ed Balls and Westminster, and we’d never get to see Ed and other patronising Westminster politicians during a Scottish election campaign ever again.  It’s worth voting for independence for that alone.

We’re told Ed Miliband and Jim Murphy will be out on the campaign trail later this week.  And it’s even rumoured that Gordon Brown will come out of hiding.  He won’t be campaigning in Labour’s traditional heartlands however, as after the incident with Mrs Duffy party strategists wish to minimise his chances of encountering anyone with an Irish surname.

But as soon as the campaign is over, the Eds will scurry off back to London closely followed by Jim who’s needed to hold their jaikets, and Gordon will get back to really important affairs of state, like sending in his application for a job with the International Monetary Fund giving mortgage advice.  Meanwhile we’d be left with with a Scottish government run by the talents of Iain, Andy, Jackie and that other one whose name and face no one can recall.  

Labour’s campaign went awry because they decided to fight this election as a re-run of the Westminster election.  Now they’ve decided to rectify their mistake by fighting this election as though it were a vote that we’ve not had yet, the referendum they don’t want us to have.  By combining the -1 of a campaign for the last election with the +1 of a future election, Labour hopes to balance things out and triangulate themselves back into the middle of Scottish politics.  But Iain’s a physics teacher, he should know that -1 plus 1 is zero.  Which is the sum of Labour’s chances.

It’s so bad for Labour that the Tories have started to take pity on them.  Speaking from their own private universe, a Conservative spokesthatcherite noted that Labour’s campaign of negativity didn’t work last time, hadn’t worked so far, and was unlikely to help now.  The Tories know a thing or three about losing Scottish elections, which is why they’re spending this election being as quiet as possible in the hope no one will notice they’re there.  

The direness continues unabated.  Even the Scotsman has printed another editorial slagging off Labour.  That’s like the Vatican News publishing a lead article entitled: “Pope Benedict.  He’s a bit crap isn’t he.”  And then following it up with an editorial called: “Protestantism, perhaps it’s not so bad after all.”

But Iain wasn’t listening.  Labour’s only message now is: “See youse.  Yese ur aw rubbish, so yese ur.  Vote for us cos we’re tried and tested rubbish.”  But Labour is rubbish that was tried by Mr Justice Saunders at Southwark Crown Court, and the party has tested our patience for over 50 years.    

Like the Labour party itself, the relaunch was all a bit of a let down, the rhetoric and the reality remain as far apart as ever.  The outcome never meets the hype.  Instead of a heavyweight political bruiser, we got a wee boy greetin because the other weans got fed up with his cheating and are playing a different game now.

But praise where praise is due.  Coming from a man who equates running away from a couple of anti-Tory protesters to hide in a sandwich shop with defusing mines in the killing fields of Cambodia while fending off genocidal Rwandan warlords with nothing but rolled up copy of the Labour manifesto, it was stirring stuff.  Stirring the sugarcube in your Subway Sandwiches tea as you watch it melt away.