Murphy’s push on party rebuilding should not stop at the Tweed

by Rob Marchant

Jim Murphy is the new leader of Labour in Scotland. It is hard to see this as other than good news; irrespective of political leanings, he is an experienced, Cabinet-level politician, with the kind of clout and vision that the Scottish party urgently needs. The SNP is sneering as best it can, but it is nervous laughter.

Murphy has, of course, a huge challenge on his hands: to turn around disastrous polling and an inward-looking party; left to its own devices through its hegemonic days under Blair and Brown and the early days of devolution; and later, seemingly taken by surprise by the rise of the SNP.

It was certainly high time that Scottish Labour took a long, hard look in the mirror, rather than give in to the temptation of huffily declaring that it was treated as a “branch office”, as its last leader, Johann Lamont, did. And it has: it has realised both that it needs a radical change and that it does not need to dance to the Nats’ own tune of “MSPs only”.

It has realised that, far from attracting support, trying to compete with the SNP to see who can be the most insular is a game Labour can only lose.

Reaching out to all the party’s talents, in contrast, is a position of strength. The truth is that there is valuable experience and support that Labour colleagues in Westminster or elsewhere can provide, as Murphy has just shown.

As a first step, what refreshingly positive was Monday’s announcement that Murphy would immediately start to reform and rebuild Scottish Labour; that party reform would be at the centre of his plans.

Almost since its inception, Uncut has repeatedly written on the importance of party reform for Labour, including in our manifesto of 2013. While cautious about the party’s commitment to full implementation, we applauded Ed Miliband’s adoption of funding and voting reform this year.

But there were nevertheless two frustrating things about the result: one was that it took so long to happen. The “Refounding Labour” initiative of 2011-12 turned out to be an utterly damp squib, which refounded precious little. It was only the 2013 Falkirk selection fiasco which pushed Miliband into radical action; what is certainly planned to be the biggest-ever shake-up of the party’s relationship with trade unions.

And a second frustration was that, when it did happen, reform still left many areas untouched. The effective subcontracting out of large parts of the parliamentary selection process to the major unions. The patchwork quilt of special cases and quotas which mars that same process. Failure to discipline MPs or even London mayors, no matter how badly they behaved. The party’s nurturing of identity politics, including its disastrously cosy relationship with the biraderi, the clan leaders in Britain’s Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities.
But these are just examples: Murphy’s reforms may well deal with different issues. Some of these areas he may not be empowered to address; others he may not even want to. But the overall fact that sweeping reforms of the party are his first priority point up a wider truth: the Labour party is long overdue for reform across the board.

For are not Scottish Labour’s problems simply Labour’s problems, writ large?

The evidence says yes. If the party organisation nationally were not in urgent need of renovation too, why would seats recently considered safe in Labour’s northern heartlands, such as Heywood and Middleton, be at risk from UKIP, the national equivalent of the populist SNP?

If discipline were not an issue nationally, why would an NEC member be able to campaign for a non-Labour candidate with impunity?

If our relationship with unions were healthy nationally, why would Falkirk have triggered a national solution – the wholesale rewriting of Labour’s relationship with its affiliated unions – and not a local, Scottish one?

If there is no far-left entryism in Labour nationally, why do we tolerate a parliamentary candidate who is an avowed supporter of Joseph Stalin, one of the last century’s greatest butchers? Or MPs who consort with hate preachers?

The reality is this. Between 1997 and March of this year, the party experienced essentially no real reform. Seventeen years. While Scotland may have been the least well-tended garden, there were weeds everywhere.

No, the surprise is not that both Miliband and Murphy have both opted for serious party reform, but that the party has held together, with string and safety-pins, for so long.

Miliband may have been dragged kicking and screaming to the party reform agenda when he saw no alternative, having hoped that incrementalism would suffice. It did not and, despite a creditable start, he still needs to finish the job.

But Murphy has seized the bull by the horns. Like Clause Four in 1994 or independence of the Bank of England in 1997, he has made a dramatic opening salvo; he means to make his stamp on the Scottish party.

He needs to: the future of the party in Scotland, and quite conceivably the union itself, depends on it. After that, we should turn our eyes south.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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15 Responses to “Murphy’s push on party rebuilding should not stop at the Tweed”

  1. swatantra says:

    Thats the trouble when you take a group of peoples for granted, Whether they are Scots or BAME or Working Class. One day they’ll suddenly wake up and question why they are supporting Labour and getting b****r all back for it.
    In a sense Scots BAME and the bulk of the Working Class have been commatised into voting a certain way for decades out of a false sense of loyalty, and the mistaken belief that there was nowhere else to go. But these days there is an alternative. Which means that Labour is going to have to up its Game and fall out of that complacency.
    We can attract the special interest groups back again into the fold, if the Party Leadership at the top changes, and looks more like those special interest groups of Scots NBAME and Trade Unionists, and all the different sections of the Party see that there is a common cause and that cause is redistributing the wealth of this country to those that have earned it and deserve it.

  2. Landless Peasant says:

    Murphy claims that he is going to end poverty, does that mean he and Scottish Labour oppose Benefit Sanctions? If so, where does that leave Reeves & Miliband? Or was Murphy simply lying and doesn’t really intend to end poverty?

  3. Tafia says:

    You are lecturing Scotland as to what sort of Labour they will have rather than listening to them and giving them the Labour they want.

    It’s that attitude that got you into this mess to start with and unless you change that attitude the situation you are now in is where you will remain.

  4. Rob Marchant says:

    @Swatantra: I think I’d have to disagree on this one – if I understand correctly, you are advocating the kind of identity poltiics which partly got us into trouble in the first place.

    @LandlessPeasant: I guess you haven’t heard of the open divergence between UK and Scottish Labour policy programmes ever since the start of the Scottish Parliament in 1999, then?

  5. paul barker says:

    The first test of how serious Murphy is about Reform is surely whether he releases the actual Voting numbers in The Election that made him Leader. Why keep the figures secret unless there is something to hide ? How can SLAB reform itself without all the facts ?

  6. Landless Peasant says:

    @ Rob Marchant

    No, I haven’t. Does that mean Murphy is lying or not? or will he end the cruel, pointless and entirely punitive Benefit Sanctions that serve no other purpose but to deliberately plunge already poor people into destitution?

  7. uglyfatbloke says:

    Rob, the gnats may be sneering and laughing, but whatever else they are , they are not nervous of Murphy getting elected; it was the best possible result for them. As a more general point, looking at the rise of the SNP as being akin to that of UKIP betrays a woeful failure to understand the situation which does not bode well for the future. Does nobody read Sun Tsu? Defeating the enemy depends heavily on knowing the enemy for what he actually is, not for how you would like to see him.

  8. Rob Marchant says:

    @PaulBarker: It’s an interesting point about which I had an exchange with the good John Rentoul yesterday. I am not sure whether the election/comms was managed by the Scottish country office or by the national HQ. But normally in these things the candidates do not get involved in the process, it is managed elsewhere. You could legitimately blame the party, but I don’t think you can really blame Jim.

    @LandlessPeasant: Well, perhaps you should. For example, since 1999 there have been two separate unilateralists in charge of the Scottish government (not merely the party) and barely a whisper from the national party. They can pretty much do as they like policy-wise.

  9. swatantra says:

    The point Rob is that only 17 out of 300 odd Lab MPs are BAME and you’d have to look pretty hard these days to find a working class MP, and one that actually represents their Union members concerns, and the number of Lab MPs with a busines or Army or Farming background is probablty zilch. I’m with you in saying that the Labour Party should not be just a party of the working class, but aparty of working peoples, which is quite a different thing, and we’ve moved on from the 1930’s, although some people are still fighting a Class War which is pretty pointless these days, and a waste of time.

  10. Mike Homfray says:

    The only thing Murphy’s election will ensure is that the SNP gain more seats from Labour then they would do otherwise.
    They couldn’t have picked anyone worse, and the more seats he loses., the quicker they can get rid.

  11. Mike Homfray says:

    Murphy is entirely the wrong choice, and his election will simply mean the SNP gain more seats from Labour than they may have done otherwise
    This is inevitable but perhaps for the best in that any success from Murphy would only be used to undermine Labour in favour of the Progress party.

  12. Landless Peasant says:

    Murphy is a Class Traitor who opposed the Campaign for Free Education whilst in charge of the Student Union. As for his wild boasts of ending poverty, he cannot possibly do that unless he at least abolishes Benefit Sanctions, and if he does then the rest of UK Labour will have to follow suit or appear as the hypocrites that they are.

  13. John Reid says:

    Mike Homfray, the progress party,and labpur are two different things, do they run against each other, if so what if the labour party of which you’re a member didn’t stand in a ward and rogers did,would you vote green?

    Regarding the fact that Murphy may lose labour seats ,he’ll be got rid of, recall Tony Benn saying labour lost in 1983 as it wasn’t left wing enough, apparently losing labour votes is a sign of sucsess

    You’ve put your finger on it,
    So we need a female ex army, agriculture BaME woman to stand for parliament, who’s preferably working class, as BaME (ex)MPs like Oona king ,Chuka Ammuna are middle class that’s them, out then

  14. swatantra says:

    … and a one-legged transvestite … ?

  15. Tafia says:

    Landless PeasantMurphy is a Class Traitor

    On the contrary – he behaves upper middle class because that’s his origins. His big problem is that he was so outspokenly in favour of Blairite stuff that the Scots do not want, that for him to now pretend not to like it as well will brand him a hypocrit and liar – making him unelectable, whereas if he maintains his position he remains unelectable also.

    Damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t.

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