Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Is it Murphy's Law for Labour in Scotland?

IS Jim Murphy MP going to be given the leadership of the Labour Party in Scotland? Soon after the referendum on independence, which resulted in the 'NO' vote that Labour had campaigned for, there were claims in the Tory press that Murphy would be taking over from Johann Lamont, and assertions that the East Renfrewshire MP was the man who could "save the Labour Party".

That the Labour Party should need "saving", when the referendum had seemingly gone its way, was an interesting thought.  It had been confidently remarked for some time that Scotland has more pandas in the Edinburgh zoo than Tories in Westminster, and yet suddenly it was not looking so good for the Labour Party.

Murphy, shadow minister for International Development, began by ruling out speculation, and urging Labour to  “come together and work hard” to support Johann Lamont.
"Mr Murphy yesterday issued a rallying call to the party to unite around its leader Ms Lamont after the direction of the party was criticised by two former Labour First Ministers.
His intervention follows weeks of speculation that Mr Murphy, who played a high-profile role in the No campaign during the run-up to the independence referendum, was considering a switch from Westminster to Holyrood and that he could be in line to take over from Ms Lamont.

However, the former Scottish Secretary said Ms Lamont was a “perfectly good leader” and that he wanted to remain as a member of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet at Westminster.
Ms Lamont, who was last month forced to deny reports she was set to quit after less than three years in post, faced criticism from two of her predecessors about Labour’s performance in opposition at Holyrood. Former First Minister Lord McConnell said Labour had become “a political machine that is angry about what has happened in Scotland in the recent past” and warned that it must now rediscover its “sense of purpose”.

But that was a week ago, and as Harold Wilson used to say, a week is a long time in politics. On Friday, after polls suggesting Labour's reward for helping Cameron's government was a Tory resurgence and falling Labour vote, Johann Lamont announced her resignation, telling the Daily Record:
“Just as the SNP must embrace that devolution is the settled will of the Scottish people, the Labour Party must recognise that the Scottish party has to be autonomous and not just a branch office of a party based in London.
“Scotland has chosen to remain in partnership with our neighbours in the UK. But Scotland is distinct and colleagues must recognise that. There is a danger of Scottish politics being between two sets of dinosaurs – the Nationalists who can’t accept they were rejected by the people and some colleagues at Westminster who think nothing has changed.”

Former Prime Minister Gordon Brown has dismissed suggestions that he could take on the job.  Sarah Boyack, an MSP and relative outsider is reported to be interested. But media are tipping Murphy as front runner.

"Jim Murphy is expected to declare his candidacy for the leadership of Scottish Labour in the next 48 hours. He will have to win in the three-part electoral college system that Ed Miliband decided was discredited and had to be reformed for the UK leadership elections.

That means getting the support of party members (probably straightforward as fame normally gets you a long way in one member one vote campaigns). It means getting the support of trade unions – Unite and Unison would dearly love to kill off his challenge. Then there’s the elected MSP/MP/MEP section.

MSPs now have one of their own to choose from – Sarah Boyack, who announced her candidacy today. They could have another added to the list. There is pressure on MSP Neil Findlay to stand.

One Labour shadow frontbencher accused Mr Murphy of acting like “a reluctant bride” but Mr Murphy is working hard behind the scenes to make sure he has the team and strategy to withstand some predicable assaults.
- See more at:

At 47 Jim Murphy may have earned a reward for his hard work running around Scotland energetically promoting the 'No' vote with Labour's "Better Together" slogan, but what remains of Labour's loyal support in Scotland may do well to ask themselves whether the Party would not be better without Jim Murphy as leader.

The big issue facing Labour in Scotland is the strength of the 'YES' vote for independence in working class areas, including all the Glasgow seats. This can be interpreted as a rejection of 'neo-liberalism', privatisation, austerity policies, Cameron's Old Etonian toffs and the dominant City of London. But Labour has put it itself in a position where it is no longer seen as the answer to all that by Scottish voters whom it previously took for granted.  At the Party conference, Len McCluskey of the Unite union said this bore out warnings that Labour was losing its support in its pursuit of the elusive middle class vote.  

Like many a leading careerist before him,  Jim Murphy came into politics via the National Union of Students (NUS). In 1994, he took a sabbatical from Strathclyde University to serve as NUS president, holding the post from 1994–96, during which time he was also a member of Labour Students.
During Murphy's presidency in 1995, the NUS dropped its opposition to the abolition of the student grant in line with the Labour Party's policies, contrary to the agreed policy at the NUS Derby Conference. Subsequently he was condemned by a House of Commons Early Day Motion signed by 17 Labour MPs for "intolerant and dictatorial behaviour".  The NUS disciplined student activists who supported the Campaign for Free Education.  Among those who criticised Murphy was Alex Salmond of the Scottish National Party.

Despite these credentials Murphy was able to go from the NUS to parliament, winning the former Tory seat of Eastwood in the 1997 general election, with a majority of 3,236. From 1999-2001, he was a member of the Public Accounts Committee, which oversees public expenditure.[8] In February 2001, he was appointed as Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS) to Helen Liddell, the Secretary of State for Scotland.

From 2001 -2002 Jim Murphy was Chair  of Labour Friends of Israel.  
Murphy is a member of the Henry Jackson Society Advisory Council. (see reference to this illustrious Transatlantic connection in our previous posting)

As a member of the Blair government, Murphy supported the Iraq war, and he continued holding important posts under Gordon Brown, and in and out of government. After Ed Milliband became Party leader, Murphy was appointed Shadow Defense Secretary.  He was also in charge of a party commission looking into organisation in Scotland.Then in 2012 Murphy was among a group of Westminster MPs named as benefiting from up to £20,000 per year expenses to rent accommodation in London, at the same time as letting out property they owned in the city.

On 3 July 2013, Murphy accused Unite of "bullying" and "overstepping the mark" for allegedly interfering with the Labour Party's selection process in Falkirk. The issue seemed to revolve around the convenor at the Grangemouth oil refinery, Steve Deans, who was also chair of the Falkirk West constituency party, encouraging union members to join the Labour Party. A lot of Labour Party members and trade unionists might naievely think that was a highly commendable bit of enthusiasm. It can't have done Labour much harm in a constituency where the sitting MP Eric Joyce was in repeated trouble for alcoholism and brawling.  

Nevertheless Labour Party Central Office in London implemented "special measures" under the Labour Party constitution, and took direct control of candidate selection in Falkirk. The NEC later concluded that anyone who had joined the Labour Party in Falkirk after 12 March 2012, when Eric Joyce announced he was stepping down, would not be allowed to take part in the selection process. The NEC then suspended provisional candidate Karie Murphy and Falkirk party chairman Stephen Deans.

On 27 June, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey wrote to his members with regards to the NEC special measures process:
“     These decisions have been taken on the basis of an 'investigation' into the CLP (Constituency Labour Party), the report of which your union has not been allowed to see. As a result, not only are the rights of Falkirk CLP members being ignored, Unite is being subjected to a behind-the-scenes smear campaign. We will be challenging this procedure and this campaign through all proper channels within the party, publicly and by legal action if necessary. ”

On 5 July Ed Miliband announced that the party was to refer the NEC internal report into allegations of irregularities in the selection of a candidate in Falkirk to Police Scotland, saying that the NEC internal inquiry had shown irregularities the Falkirk Labour Party candidate selection.

The Conservative MP Henry Smith wrote to the Chief Constable of Scotland, Sir Stephen House, asking for an investigation and suggesting Unite might have committed fraud.  On 25 July Police Scotland concluded that there were insufficient grounds to support an investigation. A spokesman for Police Scotland told the BBC: "Following a comprehensive review of all material submitted, Police Scotland has concluded there are insufficient grounds to support a criminal investigation at this time. However, should further information come to light this will be looked into."

Ineos, the employers who had threatened to close Grangemouth refinery and with it, half of Scotland, were also keen to provide material for a police investigation of the Unite convenor, and the Murdock press joined in the hunt. But after examining the evidence the police concluded there was no case to investigate.
Nevertheless both Karie Murphy and Steve Deans had been suspended by the Labour Party after the NEC internal report in June 2013. Murphy had previously withdrawn her candidature for the PPC position. The Labour Party withdrew the right for affiliated unions to pay the Labour Party membership fees for their members to join the local CLP. More important, the Guardian reported that the row has led to a former cabinet minister and other "senior party figures" calling for Labour to break its formal links with the trade union movement.

(On the other hand, see:

On October 2013, Murphy was demoted to the post of Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. We're not sure whether a move from Westminster to Holyrood to head the Scottish Labour Party, or Labour's Scotland branch, would count as further demotion for Murphy, but it certainly would be for Scottish Labour. 

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