Commentary by Hugh Kerr
There must have been some interesting discussion at the “gala” Labour dinner in Glasgow this week, and the placement of guests certainly must have been tricky!
Still, since all the seats are being paid for no doubt by wealthy business sponsors, maybe it won’t be such a problem!
I was once given an offer of a dinner place next to a Shadow Cabinet member by a nice young PR woman Sarah Macaulay (later to become Mrs Gordon Brown). The price was £1,000 of taxpayers’ money – our European Parliament information budget which was meant to inform the citizens of Europe of our good works – but in this case was to be laundered to the Labour Party.
I declined Sarah’s offer of dinner saying I would rather pay not to dine with the average shadow cabinet member.
Still the leadership election will have dominated the Glasgow dinner discussion, and I do hope Ed Miliband remembered the names of all the contenders (he couldn’t last time).
The entry yesterday of Jim Murphy into the Scottish Labour leadership election looks to have completed the field and now we can examine the runners and riders.But before that, spare a thought for the fallen leader Johann Lamont. I know you may not want to do so, but the manner of her leaving may help explain the outcome of the leadership election.
In one way her departure is surprising since her side won the referendum and you would expect her to be basking in her success. Instead she is licking her wounds. Her fate was sealed in the middle of the campaign when she was moved sideways and to the margins by firstly Alistair Darling, who seemed to prefer the company of Tories rather than the Scottish Labour leader.
Secondly by Jim Murphy with his mighty Irn Bru campaign – as Ian Bell put it ” the man who put the crate into Great Britain”.
And finally of course by “the great clunking fist” himself, Gordon Brown; for a man who believes he saved the world in 2008, saving the Union was a mere trifle – a few speeches, a few fibs and a “vow” which on examination is not only empty but doesn’t seem to exist other than as the mocked-up front page of the Daily Record.
Johann was of course nowhere to be seen at his speeches to carefully selected Labour audiences. Labour unlike the Yes campaign, long ago gave up on having genuine public meetings with real people in the audience,
Incidentally if you think lies is a more accurant word than fibs for Gordon’s speeches then consider this: I am writing this in a Housing Association flat in the Quartermile the huge prestige development designed by Norman Foster on the site of the old Edinburgh Royal Hospital. Here the bed sites in the private sector begin at £250,000, and the penthouse suites go for £3 million! All this was made possible by one of Gordon’s great PFI projects, which he forced on the Scottish Labour government and indeed all other health authorities north and south of the border.
It would have cost £200 million to build a new Edinburgh Royal from public money, but Gordon wanted it funded from private finance sources so it wouldn’t appear on the books he was cooking for the world. The site was sold to a group of developers which have changed five times since it was originally set up by the Bank of Scotland.
Over 30 years we will have paid these companies £1.2 billion and we still won’t own it. Rumour has it that by then the building will need rebuilding. Gordon you see, far from being the great defender against privatisation (as he claimed in a referendum speech), was the originator of the privatisation which now strangles the health service across the UK.
As well as being sidelined, Johann was being undermined by rumours put around in the Labour Party that she was “useless,didn’t have a clue, etc. etc.”, these poisonous titbits said to have been spread by a shady Labour organisation known as “The Network”, a Blairite group that aims to keep the flame of the great departed leader alive. Chief among the Network organisers in Scotland is said to be one Jim Murphy. My friends inside the Labour Party tell me that he was instrumental in spreading the rumours against Johann. So having assured her resignation, Murphy hopes to have a seamless victory in the leadership election.
Of course Sarah Boyack and Neil Findlay may hold different viewpoints to Murphy, but I don’t think they are likely to be a serious threat to him. Findlay is a new member in the Scottish Parliament and the candidate of the Campaign for Socialism, the small left group inside Labour, and he will attract some trade union support and a small number of Parliamentarians, notably Katy Clark.
Sarah Boyack is a 15-year veteran of the Scottish Parliament, well respected particularly for her work on the environment.She is seen as a centre ground figure who will attract some support among MSPs and MPs who don’t like Murphy, as well as individual votes from party members and trade unionists, but not sufficient to challenge Murphy.
I think Murphy will win decisively, not least because the party machine will be behind him. As one Labour friend put it: “They will make sure he wins by one way or another.” The truth is that the majority of Labour members in Scotland are very much on the left. Dont forget that David Miliband beat Ed in the constituency section of the leadership, and that Ken MacIntosh did the same against Joann Lamont who was actually seen as the “left” candidate then.
Murphy of course has another problem in getting a seat in the Scottish Parliament, which he will need to lead Labour in Scotland. However that couldn’t happen till next May, as Labour can’t afford any by-elections in the current climate. The latest STV poll suggests that Labour mightonly win four seats at the next election and the SNP would take 50! Now I don’t believe that will happen, but it does suggest that there are very few safe Labour seats in Scotland.
How should the Yes campaign and the SNP view the likelihood of a Murphy leadership? Well I think we should welcome it. Murphy is an unreconstructed Blairite who supported the whole Blair programme, including the Iraq war, while collecting some of the highest expenses among Scottish MPs. His record is open to criticism from the left and he will lose the support of many traditional Labour voters who voted Yes.
The truth is that the Labour Party is a hollow shell in Scotland, kept on life support by London money and the full time MPs, MSPs, MEPs, councillors and their staff, friends and families. During the referendum they paid for and shipped members up from England to campaign.In a general election where Labour are fighting across the UK they won’t be able to do that next May.
We now have more members in the trade union section of the SNP than the claimed Labour Party membership of 13,000 in Scotland. All the signs are that Labour will do badly not only in Scotland but England as well. This is not least because Ed Miliband has the worst-ever poll ratings of any political leader in the UK, Neil Kinnock suffered a similar fate in 1992 and his ratings were much better.
The truth is that we face another five years of a Tory coalition, maybe backed up by a rump of UKIP MPs and the remaining Liberals. Five more years of cuts, wars and a possible EU exit in 2017. All that may bring a Scottish referendum right back on the agenda.
Jim Murphy’s leadership is unlikely to arrest the slow decline of Labour in Scotland which will result in defeat in 2015, 2016 and in the next referendum, which I predict will occur sometime around 2020. So in the meantime hail and farewell Jim Murphy, I am not sure you will last as long!
* Hugh Kerr served as a Labour Party member, councillor and MEP for 35 year’s until expelled by Tony Blair in 1998.