Sunday, 2 November 2014

A bit more about the Leadership

On the morning of polling day 1997 I had to do a few hours at my work.

There, just as I was leaving, I was told there was somebody on the phone from the Labour Party. I took the call to realise I was speaking to the agent for the Labour Candidate in a nearby constituency.

"Are you still the Labour Party's lawyer?" he inquired. I told him I still was, as far as I knew.

He went on to advise that the SNP were standing inside the grounds of a local polling station, that he had complained to the returning officer to no avail and so, he concluded, he wanted to go to court. Immediately.

I was not attracted by this course of action. Certainly the rules appeared to be being broken but, frankly, given that we were talking about a constituency where we had enjoyed a five figure majority even in the dark days of 1983, it seemed to me that this minor infringement was unlikely to have a material bearing on the 1997 result.

This was typical New Labour pusillanimity, I was informed. Give them an inch and all too soon it would be a mile. If I was not prepared to get involved he would just find himself a lawyer who would. And with that he rung up.

I thought about things for a bit and decided that some sort of petty court action of this nature was not the sort of thing that would do the Party any good. So I decided I had better get somebody in authority to phone this guy and tell him not to be so bloody stupid,

At Keir Hardie House , Lesley Quinn, the Scottish Organiser was "out on the road" and unavailable. I asked who was there and was told "only Jim Murphy" who was then the Party's research officer.

Jim having assured me that he would sort things, in signing off I thought it only right to ask why he was not in Eastwood, where he was the Party's candidate?  He'd been and was just going back, Jim advised me. But there were other things to be done and, if we were being honest with each other, while Labour was going to win the national election big, in Eastwood the Tories had a majority of more than eleven and a half thousand with nearly fifty per cent of the popular vote, We might be going to win big but we weren't going to win as big as Eastwood.

Twenty four hour later Jim Murphy was an MP. The landslide had reached even a seat where in past elections Labour had really only been in a contest for second place. Even then a consolation prize we had more often lost than won.

The immediate Party reaction was of course delight but once the dust had settled the consensus was that for Jim personally winning Eastwood was a bit of a disaster. 1997 would never be repeated and the inevitable, even minor, Tory recovery would see Jim back to a less elevated existence.

That, after all had been the fate of Donald Dewar whose prize for winning marginal Aberdeen South in 1966 had been eight years in the political wilderness after the pendulum had swung back in 1970.

And indeed, come 2001, while William Hague went down again to defeat, nonetheless many of the "Were you still up for Portillo" seats went quietly back to their more natural allegiance. Except, you noticed the next day, Jim Murphy was still there. And still there not with a 1997 majority of  three thousand but with one of nearly ten. He still is there today.

And during that time he has built the Constituency Party from a band of local diehards into one of the most active and well funded in Scotland.

But that's not all.

In 2007 Labour got gubbed at the Scottish Parliamentary Elections and in keeping with the Party's best traditions marked this reverse by a massive internal rammy involving leaders and policies coming and going on an almost daily basis.

The polling was appalling. Scottish politics had changed forever we were told. The SNP was the new natural Party of government. At the very least the Holyrood seats we were now down to them would be followed by their Westminster equivalents at the earliest electoral opportunity.

Except that never happened. Instead,by the end of the 2010 campaign Salmond was in hiding and the SNP,  far from challenging Labour, ended up only just scraping more votes than the Tories.

Now, don't get me wrong, there was more than one reason for this but among the decisive factors was the coming of Murphy to the post of Secretary of State for Scotland. His quiet, reasoned ability to dismiss the wilder claims for the merits of Independence, more it seemed in sorrow than in anger, simply highlighted the extent to which these were based on little more than bluff, bluster and wishful thinking. Don't take my word for that, look at the actual election result.

So, people are entitled to have a go at where Jim Murphy stands on the internal spectrum of Labour politics but those who assert that he wouldn't be a vote winner for Labour are, I think protesting not only too much but in the face of all the evidence.

That's all very well, I hear some say, but he's a Westminster MP. That, I readily concede initially, looks not ideal. Except that if you start by recognising that part of Scottish Labour's problem is that we are perceived as having our A Team in one Parliament and (at best) our B Team in the other then at one point surely somebody has to move from one to the other to overcome that perception?

And, anyway, the public does not have the same affection for Parliaments that seems to infect the politicians in either place. The public looks for a convincing candidate for First Minister or Prime Minister.  Certainly, part of that convincing requires a visibly competent circle of deputies to fill the ministerial offices but without the right person in the lead role the rest can't make up for that absence on their own.

Just before Johann's departure John McTernan wrote in the Scotsman with considerable frustration at Scottish Labour's inability to take advantage of the any number of open goals the referendum result had provided to us. Not least Salmond's own departure, it appears, to a life of opening supermarkets,

But there is a wider use of that sporting analogy. All football teams need someone capable of putting the ball in the net. Look at the fate of the teams led by John Swinney or Michael Howard.  Yet, in both cases, with a change of striker the same midfield players were transformed from journeymen pros into...........well at least they looked much better players.

So at this time Labour can't make do with an Anthony Stokes or a Lee Griffiths. Players perhaps good enough against inferior opposition but who are found out at the top level.

We have a political Henrik Larrson available on the bench. It's time to get him on the pitch.

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