Twenty reasons why Jim Murphy should stay as Scottish Labour leader

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Yesterday my friend John wrote a frankly pretty unhelpful piece urging Jim Murphy to leave as Scottish Labour leader. I thought I’d redress the balance with this modest list of reasons why Jim Murphy should stay. I’m sure you’ll have other suggestions: please do let me know.

  1. He’s not had long at all to get stuff done, and turfing him out now would leave the reorganisation of Scottish Labour half done at best. Give him a little time.
  2. Labour did hold Edinburgh South, after all. It’s unlikely that’s to do with Ian Murray helping to save Hearts or being probably the hardest-working of their outgoing MPs. Some polls predicted a total wipeout, so this result is actually quite a striking success.
  3. He’s got exceptionally loyal media support, especially from the Tory press. They urged Labour to support him last year, and it feels like they’d support him now even if he’d lost every vote in Scotland. They’ve got Labour’s best interests at heart.
  4. It’s probably best to write off the 2016 Holyrood elections and 2017 local elections. The focus should be 2020 and thereafter. Jim’s the man to write those two off as well, based on this result.
  5. Actually, many of the Labour MPs who lost, like Ian Davidson, Michael Connarty, and Brian Donohoe, weren’t that great and it’s probably better for Labour to start again in 2020 with more appealing candidates next time round. Everyone needs a clearout once in a while. Consider it “decluttering”.
  6. A leadership election is a distraction from winning back support, and he clearly represents stability and steady-as-you-go for Labour in Scotland. It would be self-indulgent navel-gazing to have another election. Also, if you have a leadership election you might need to reveal how many proper members Scottish Labour has, and that might be a bit awkward.
  7. He’s successfully alienated the unions. And that’s good because the unions are the worst part of Labour, everyone says. They don’t represent working people, and look how badly they stuffed up by picking Ed Miliband. Perhaps him staying will force them to disaffiliate and take all their corrupting money with them. Maybe they’ll go and corrupt the SNP or the Greens with some of it.
  8. However, he’s in touch with working class people because he loves football.
  9. The members supported him over Neil Findlay by almost 2:1. So he’s got a really strong mandate and it would be disrespectful to those members for him not to stay on.
  10. Nigel Farage is staying after all, and he lost half of UKIP’s seats, which is almost as bad as Scottish Labour’s results.
  11. Jim definitely won’t suggest splitting Scottish Labour off to be an independent party, and a strong and united Labour party winning across the UK is vital for the UK’s survival.
  12. Trident’s going to be renewed, and Labour at Westminster are going to support that. It would be unseemly and disruptive for Scottish Labour to pick a leader who was opposed to that.
  13. Tony Blair won Scotland comprehensively in three consecutive elections so it makes sense that an ultra-Blairite leader is what Scottish voters are looking for: someone who backed popular moves to introduce tuition fees, the successful Iraq war, and the market reforms the NHS so urgently needed. Keeping a Blairite in the top job will also help keep the lid on any possible Tory revival in Scotland, which is probably the biggest threat Labour faces.
  14. He’s got staff nous. He hired Blair McDougall who ensured Labour and the Tories were in lock-step for the very successful Better Together campaign, and he hired John McTernan who led Julia Gillard’s eye-catching operation in Australia.
  15. He’s really irrepressibly confident. Like when he said the Nats were lazy and Labour would win new seats. He’s like Tigger, and the public like confident leaders. Even in February he sounded like he meant it when he predicted a late swing to Scottish Labour. Who else would even consider staying on after losing so many seats? Labour would never find someone so bullish if they had to replace him.
  16. He won’t have to be distracted and spend vital time representing the people of East Renfrewshire, dealing with constituency matters or being in London speaking in debates: he can be a proper full-time leader.
  17. Relatedly, he presumably doesn’t need a salary because he played his expenses nicely and has property to let out in London and his resettlement grant to live off.
  18. Similarly, if they picked a leader who was an MSP now they’d have to do FMQs and so on, and Nicola might wipe the floor with them. Better not to take the risk.
  19. Neil Findlay doesn’t want it. Perhaps none of the MSPs want it: none of them have publicly called for him to go, presumably because they recognise this was a decent result in difficult circumstances, especially in a part of the UK where Labour have historically struggled.
  20. Also, if Labour picked a new leader from their best remaining MSPs, that person would probably come under pressure to resign in May 2016, which would look bad and further reduce the talent pool for future leadership elections.
  21. The Nats really don’t like him so they must be afraid of him. He’s also really good at heckling people back with a megaphone and riling them up and then they look really bad on telly which wins votes. And they’ll waste all their time doing satirical photoshops of him rather than campaigning.
  22. He can drink a deft can of Irn Bru (pictured above), which is gradually underminining Humza Yousaf’s personal brand on a daily basis.

Wait, that’s twenty-two reasons! I’m sure there are even more out there, so please do suggest them in the comments.

How will Labour respond to a mass extinction event?

A helpful (no really) guest post from John Nicol today. Thanks John!

Hadrosaurs graze peacefully as burning meteors fall through the sky.Thursday’s earthquake may be the best thing that’s ever happened to Scottish Labour. Quite memorably during the referendum campaign, a Yes activist followed the newly-arrived Labour bigwigs through the streets of Glasgow, blasting the Imperial March from Star Wars through a speaker and crying “Our Imperial masters have arrived!” The activist’s message could have been as much for Scottish Labour as for the Scots as a whole.

Labour’s Westminster MPs have long seen themselves as the ‘real’ politicians. In their eyes, the Scottish contingent in Holyrood were the B team, the 2nd stringers – too wee, too poor and too stupid to make it in the big boy’s game in London.

It’s a long time since James Mackenzie of this parish coined the term ‘LOLITSP’ – Leader Of Labour In The Scottish Parliament – on twitter to try and describe exactly what the relationship is between the person that most Scots see asking questions every week (and who most Scots assume runs Scottish Labour) and the rest of the party. But that person has always been hamstrung, told to stay in their box and not get too ambitious. Wendy Alexander was ousted by her own brother for having the audacity to try and set a course for Labour that hadn’t been approved by London. Johann Lamont complained of the “dinosaurs” holding her back and unable to see the reality of what was happening on the streets.

Lamont, from all accounts, was removed by a coup orchestrated by Jim Murphy and her good friend Margaret Curran. And while it was gratifying to see Creepy Jim get ousted on Friday morning – a man so odious that even Tony Blair kept him at arm’s length – it was particularly delightful to see Curran get her just desserts. She epitomised everything that is wrong with Scottish Labour. She couldn’t wait to ditch her Holyrood brethren as soon as a position in Westminster became available, to join the Big Leagues and the people who, like now former MP John Robertson admitted to the Washington Post, hardly needed to campaign at all. The self-styled elite of the party.

And now Lamont’s dinosaurs are all dead. Scottish Labour has been decapitated, and it was interesting to see Kezia Dugdale’s body language when she was standing next to Jim Murphy as he made his non-resignation head-in-the-sand speech. It reminded me of that opening scene from episode one of The Good Wife, as Julianna Margulies stood slightly off to the side and behind her politician husband as he admitted to having an affair, trying to look stoical and failing grimly.

Like the character in that show, this is the moment that Kez needs to seize, while there is a vacuum at the top. Labour’s MSPs are the only game they have in town in Scotland now, and they need to step up and reposition Scottish Labour as no longer a branch office. Scotland has muscled aside everyone else for her, and now Kezia Dugdale needs to tell Murphy some home truths and point him in the direction of the job centre.

The Deputy Squatter

Screen Shot 2015-05-06 at 11.35.14There’s a lot of feverish chat about Dave Cameron just staying on in Number 10 even if there’s an anti-Tory majority, especially if the Tories alone happen to outnumber Labour (like that matters). We are reminded of the way the Tory press hounded Brown as a squatter for (quite rightly) remaining as PM five years ago until it was clear he couldn’t command a majority.

But there’s one crucial difference between 2015 and 2010 that seems to have been completely forgotten about. Dave’s legitimacy as Prime Minister is based on the Tory coalition with the Lib Dems. If he decides to try to cling to office past any point when it’s clear the numbers don’t work for him, would Nick Clegg try to stay on with him as Deputy Prime Minister? It seems unlikely to say the least.

Clegg knows that if Tory and Lib Dem seats together don’t get them to 323 (or near enough with the DUP), it’s over: he’s a pragmatist in the way his boss isn’t. And either way it seems inevitable that the Lib Dems will have just taken a major kicking, delivered in part by the Tories in the south-west of England. This might make cooperation harder even if they could inch over the line, let alone if they’ve lost their collective majority.

If Cameron tries to cling on through some unconstitutional definition of “largest minority” as legitimate, it couldn’t be sustained  if Clegg resigned (and if the Lib Dems abandon the Coalition). If the Tories can’t assemble an absolute majority from somewhere, including with the Lib Dems, I’d say they wouldn’t even be able to cling on through a single news cycle without Clegg. And of course, there’s more than one way for Clegg not to stay as DPM to potentially help them. If I were Labour I’d have thrown absolutely everything at Sheffield Hallam with that in mind.

Party Of The North launches challenge in another Labour heartland

This struck me as an interesting story from March which literally everyone else seems to have missed. Could Labour’s heartlands be reduced still further?

Party Of The North launches challenge in another Labour heartland

TRA-SPAC-0011The Party Of The North, a party set up at short notice to boost the representation and economy of the North of England, was today launched at an enthusiastic if somewhat unpolished event in central Leeds today. Led by Samira Khan, the charismatic former Labour Mayor of Kirklees, and her deputy, Eric Jones, a former independent councillor and ex-miner from Durham, the party is aiming to stand in all 158 constituencies across the European regions of Yorkshire and the Humber, the North West, and the North East.

The new grouping explicitly draws their inspiration from the spectacular rise in SNP support north of the border, and pledged today that any Party Of The North MPs elected will sit as a group with SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs to “oppose austerity and help shift the balance of power away from London and the South-East”.

“We’re not nationalists,” said Samira Khan to the approximately 200 members present, “any more than many Yes voters in the Scottish referendum last year were. The problems Scotland faces are similar to our own, though. The UK economy is designed around the interests of London and the South-East, and the Westminster model of UK politics is failing us.”

“For generations the North of England has voted Labour in the hope that they would live up to their founding values, but instead now they are offering us just a slower and more gentle version of the failed Tory austerity model. Many in the North saw Nicola Sturgeon’s performance in the leaders’ debates and wondered why they couldn’t vote for something similar: now they can.”

“Like many in Scotland, we no longer believe Labour have the answers to the problems of the North. And like the SNP, our MPs will always vote against any Tory government. We’ll vote for a Labour PM, but we’ll vote to block any continuation of the cuts which have undermined our society and our economy. Like the SNP, we will also vote against Trident renewal and against illegal wars.”

“This region could again be as prosperous as it once was, if we only had the powers of devolution that Scotland already has, not the three weak assemblies Labour offered more than a decade ago. Almost fifteen million people live here, nearly three times the population of Scotland: the North was the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution and of so much of this country’s cultural heritage, and we are still hard-working, innovative, welcoming, and creative. But without a voice of our own at Westminster, determined to put the interests of the North first, we will continue to get left behind.”

“From Chester to Berwick-upon-Tweed, from Grimsby to Carlisle, we’re seeing new members joining every day. People determined to oppose UKIP’s racist ‘little Englander’ values, the Tories’ focus on the interests of the Home Counties, the Lib Dems’ betrayal of the young, as well as many many people disappointed that Labour won’t oppose them as they should. Across this extraordinary region let me say this to the old parties: winter is coming.”

There remains uncertainty about where the party’s proposed Parliament For The North would be based, with towns and cities across the north likely to push their own claims, although the location of the launch was cited by some activists as a signal. The party’s programme is still largely uncosted, although, as with the SNP, much is made of the savings associated with not renewing Trident.

Pressed on the party’s long-term aims after the launch, Jones refused to rule out the possibility of a referendum on independence, insisting “we have no plans for a referendum at this time”, and that pushing for devolution was the party’s constitutional aim. Others in the party are believed to support the idea of a federation with an independent Scotland, should a second referendum there overturn last September’s result.

The SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon sent a video message to the launch, offering support to “our friends in the North”, and amidst enthusiastic cheers she welcomed the party’s arrival on the political scene as “the beginning of the end of the tired old politics in England”.

Labour sources, dismissing the new party as “doomed” and “a distraction”, pointed out that Labour’s offer of devolution to the English regions had been rejected, and claimed that only a Labour majority would deliver an end to Tory rule. Local Green party activists have expressed cautious sympathy for much of the Party Of The North’s agenda, but talks about how the two parties might not stand against each other have not so far proved successful. Meanwhile, Yorkshire First, founded last year, rejected the idea of working with the Party Of The North, and argued that the two parties would merely split the vote across Yorkshire.

Please note: this piece is fiction, and everyone in it apart from Nicola is fictional too – apologies to Nicola for putting words into her mouth!

SNP Tactical Voting … by Labour?

salmiliband

This election has become even more tiresome than most for tactical squeezes. SNP: “don’t vote Green and split the Yes vote“. Labour: “don’t vote Green or SNP and let the Tories back in“. Tories: “don’t vote UKIP or you’ll let Labour in“. Lib Dems: “Only we can stop both Labour and the Tories“. It’s predictable and it’s alienating. I admit that one reason Greens don’t do it is there’s no tactical way to support the Greens, apart from this kind of swap site that never really catches on. It’s vote Green or nothing if you want to support the party. One key reason for that is even if we keep Brighton Pavilion and add Bristol West, Norwich South, plus Holborn and St Pancras, holding the balance of power remains a long shot. I should say that I personally remain against it, for these reasons.

But if you’re a Tory Coalition fan in a Lib Dem/Labour marginal, your tactical vote is clear. If you’re a diehard Yoonyonisht Lib Dem in a Tory/SNP marginal, again, you know what to do. The same applies for junior parties, too. If you’re a residual Lib Dem in a Labour/Tory marginal, well, which party would you rather your MPs worked with?

Some of the maths is here on Political Betting. And it brings a tantalising thought. If you’re a Labour voter in a SNP/Lib Dem marginal (i.e. any of the Lib Dem-held seats, perhaps even including Orkney and Shetland), who do you back? You might think the Yoonyon, if you’re so inclined, comes first. And maybe it should. But if you really want Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister, you’re choosing between an SNP MP who will definitely vote for Ed to be PM and a Lib Dem MP who put Dave Cameron into office last time – and probably would again, given half a chance.

The naive assumption is that tactical voting in Scotland will be along partisan indyref lines, and therefore to the SNP’s detriment, given their far larger position within the Yes side. The ubiquitious John Curtice makes this mistake today. But if I lived in Argyll and Bute, or Gordon, or East Dunbartonshire, or the Northern Isles, or any other Scottish Lib Dem seat, and I wanted Ed Miliband for PM above all, I’d be voting SNP.

(apologies to Jeff for the title)salmiliband