Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Labour in crisis: but surely even they wouldn't be stupid enough....

Nothing became Johann Lamont quite like the manner of the humiliating departure which has plunged what remains into the Labour Party into not just a crisis, but a desperate struggle for its very existence.
Demitting office with howls of bilious invective, spite-filled attacks on her political opponents, and a sense that she was dancing on the very margins of reality, the Glasgow Pollok MSP left office comporting herself in much the same self-pitying, self-entitled manner in which she spent her entire time in the position.
However, it would not be inaccurate to say that there is no sense of pity abroad for Lamont. Psychologists say that it is easier to tell the truth than a lie: recall is simpler than invention. All those times Lamont came on television, was asked what she thought of, for instance, the Bedroom Tax, or Trident, and was entirely unable to articulate her own viewpoints on such questions, she came across as a complete dolt with no ability to think on the spot. And whilst that certainly is true (her cringeworthy performances at First Minister’s Questions spring to mind, where – presented with a script by her intrepid adviser Paul Sinclair – she doggedly followed it even where it was clear events had deviated from the hitherto-forseen sequence), it is also clear that her performances were borne out of an instruction from her bosses – yes, it appears that the “undisputed leader of the entire Scottish Labour Party, including Westminster MPs” has bosses – that she must not tack to the Left of London Labour before they had decided what her beliefs are.
The upshot of her departure, which – hilariously – she attributes to London Labour having too much control over their neighbours in Scotland (surely it is best that Scottish Labour pool and share their resources with the big boys and give up lots of sovereignty?) is that Labour is in crisis.
Not crisis as in when a Minister is forced to resign. Not crisis as in when they suffer mild disappointment in a by-election. Not even the normal sort of reasonably enjoyable crisis caused by the departure of a leader, or a “leader”, but an existential crisis: Labour is now fighting for its very existence, racked by civil war on a multitude of fronts.
Political history is littered with “natural parties of government” which no longer exist, or have been shattered into irrelevance. In Italy, the Christian Democrats dominated Italian politics from their inception at the end of the war until the party quite suddenly ceased to exist in 1994. A series of corruption scandals and heavy defeats in provincial and local elections coupled with a public perception that the party had lost touch with its electorate through a sense of entitlement (sound familiar?) led its remaining members to close the party down.
In Canada, there is an even more spectacular example. The Progressive Conservatives, which traces its history back to 1867 when it became the first party government of Canada and governed the country for forty of its first seventy years of existence. Virulently anti-Québec and identified with British imperialism and a closeness to the United States of America,(sound familiar?) it went from being in government to being the fifth largest party in the Commons, with only two seats. It never recovered, and closed down in 2003.
A similar example can be found in Ireland where in 2011, the Green Party went from being the junior party of the coalition government to being swept out of the Oireachtas, losing every seat in the Dáil and failing to receive any nominations to the Seanad. This may not be a direct example to the Scottish Labour Party, but to another pro-Westminster political party. However, a far more interesting Hibernian example, for Labour supporters, can be found in the shape of the once-mighty Fianna Fáil party. Founded by Éamon de Valera in 1926 as a spin-off from Sinn Féin, it formed its first government in the general election six years later. For the next 79 years, FF was in power for 61 of them. It was a mighty behemoth: “the government” was as synonymous with FF as “the Prime Minister” was with Harold Wilson for 1960s and 70s children. In the 2011 election, it suffered the worst defeat of any government in the history of the Irish state, losing 75% of its electorate along the way. FF was seen as a “big tent” party, and surveys and opinion polls consistently point to an electorate completely unable to distinguish between the Soldiers of Destiny and their perennial rivals for power, Fine Gael. It was considered to have lost touch with the electorate and have too obvious a sense of entitlement, and was punished by the electorate, losing three-quarters of its seats in the Dáil. Interestingly, once the electorate got the hang of kicking FF, they seemed to rather enjoy the experience, and continued to do it: at the recent European Parliament election, they managed to gain only one of Ireland’s 11 MEPs*. In the last Presidential Election, not only were they not able to field a candidate, but the mere suggestion that the independent candidate who was the favourite until the last week of the campaign had links to FF torpedoed his campaign, such is their unpopularity.
And so, from the Soldiers of Destiny to the Soldiers of Density. It would be crude, and it would be uncharitable, and it would be boorish to maintain that the Scottish Labour group of MSPs is the stupidest, lackwitted gang of dullards ever to have sat in a parliament in Scotland, and perhaps in the whole of western Europe. But it’s still true, nonetheless. Their caucus is a veritable Who’s That? of Scottish politics. From over-promoted councillors who accidentally found themselves in Parliament because of the collapse of support for Labour in constituencies up and down the country (hi, Hanzala!), to scabs whose commitment to the socialist cause goes as far as contributing articles to your actual Daily fucking Mail (hi, Scabdale!), to the children of Tory peers (hi, Claudia!), double-jobbers (hi, Cara!), political failures (hi, Iain! Hi, Johann!), privately-educated millionaires (hi, Jackie!) and those whose political careers owe nothing to talent and all to the nepotism which has so destroyed the Labour Party (hi, Paul! Hi, Siobhan), the Labour benches are a talent-vacuum upon which one cannot find a single figure who you’d trust to run a ménage, never mind a country. Or, indeed, a region.
So with the party suffering the complete surprise of realising that when you try to send your second-string to Holyrood, and they all lose their seats, the third team aren’t very good. And when you’re looking at people like Drew Smith and Mark Griffin and wondering whether they might be the sorts of chaps who can persuade people in the west of Scotland who have ditched the Labour Party because they see them as political sell-outs who, instead of fighting for working people attract only middle-class politics graduates in suits who have never had real jobs, one can see their problem.
They need, therefore, to look elsewhere. And with the highest-profile Labour councillor being Gordon Matheson, it’s not going to be to local Labour. To Westminster then (where the Deputy Leader and Shadow Scottish Secretary sit already) for talent. And a quick scan of the benches reveals people awaiting trial for assaulting a child for wanting independence (hi, Michael!), the man who is so collegiate and unifying that he rejected negotiations on a “Progressive Coalition” because he hated the SNP so much he wanted a Tory government instead (hi, Gordon!), a woman who refused to vote against the Bedroom Tax because she thought it more important to get pished in Vienna (hi, Pamela!), and a millionaire whose daddy bought his seat and who sends his kids to private school lest they come into contact with working-class kids (you already know who we’re waving to with that one).
The only MP who wants the job and is remotely credible is Apartheid Jim Murphy. And this is a problem for Labour for a few reasons.
Murphy sits in Westminster. Given their two most senior folk already sit there, another one there wouldn’t really show that Labour is committed to Holyrood and takes it seriously, as Lamont spat (failing, incidentally, to recognise the only reason she’s at Holyrood is because Labour don’t take it seriously). So Murphy needs a seat in Holyrood. The only problem there is that there isn’t such a thing as a safe Labour seat in Holyrood – their largest majority is just over 3.000 and it isn’t difficult to see the circumstances under which Murphy could face such concerted opposition in Eastwood (the most likely seat in which he’d stand, given it mirrors his seat in East Renfrewshire and of which the current occupant is his familiar, one Ken Macintosh) that he would lose the seat in a Patrick Gordon-Walker style scenario. This would leave the Labour Party leaderless over Christmas for a new election, probably into February. Not the best preparation for a May general election, the first since standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories against the working class and being soundly beaten in Labour heartlands across the west and central Scotland.
Other Murphy problems are more related to him as a person. For instance, it is generally acknowledged that the event which finally pushed Labour into their current condition was the Iraq War, which aftermath was partly responsible for its shattering defeat to the SNP in 2007, and failure to repent for its even more shattering defeat in 2011.
But Jim Murphy loves war. He was a cheerleader for the Iraq War. Did he know the British government’s “evidence” was a lie? I would suggest he ought to have done. He is a fanatical Zionist, who is a member of the shadowy “Labour Friends of Israel” group, through which he has developed some very worrying far-right friends in the United States of America.
And, of course, his past is shrouded in controversy. When his family chose to move to Apartheid South Africa in order to benefit from the racially-discriminatory system, condemned by the UN decades previously, he chose, as an adult, to remain at a private, whites-only school which banned black children from enrolling. His school was so extreme that it also produced Wouter Bassoon, the pro-Apartheid extremist who spent his career working at the head of a team developing chemical weapons for the Apartheid regime.
Murphy was so “distressed” by these experiences that, as he admitted at a raucous meeting in Shawlands during the referendum campaign, he took up arms and joined PW Botha’s South African Defence Forces in defence of the Apartheid system.
A Zionist ideologue with a dodgy past. A war criminal. An expenses fraudster. A millionaire with shadowy US links.
It’s just like Blair all over again. Let’s hope he gets it. A Murphy leadership of Labour would be the political version of Dignitas for them. This is Scotland’s chance to rid ourselves of an organisation which has been a malignant cancer upon the soul of Scottish society for a generation. An organisation which no longer reflects or looks like the working people of Scotland but is distinguishable only in terms of degree, not ideology, from the Tory friends they spent so long in coalition with against the people of Scotland. An organisation which is no longer wanted, or relevant.
In the first Parliament election, in 1999, Labour got 908.932 votes in the constituencies of Scotland. In 2011, that was down to 630.461. Losing a third of your electorate is not the way to survive. Alienating the other two-thirds with an alliance with the Tories and big business is an excellent way of ensuring they join the 33%.
Labour’s disconnect with Scotland, and its enmity to its people, reminds me of Berthold Brecht:
After the uprising of the 17th of June
The Secretary of the Writers' Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

* there are 14 MEPs sitting for Ireland, three of which sit in the north, in which FF organise but do not contest elections.


  1. He will destroy what's left of Scottish Labour. It's hard to suppress the sobs.

  2. Oh, thanks for quoting Brecht! :-)

    The current situation in the UK reminds me much of Germany in the autumn of 1989. Politicians in full denial of reality, telling themselves and the world that status quo will continue forever, when in fact its foundations have already crumbled.