Music. Celtic. Rome. Dan Hodges interviews Jim Murphy

by Dan Hodges???

To the untrained eye, Jim Murphy’s office shuns convention. A guitar propped  casually in the corner. Football memorabilia on prominent display. A large framed photograph of  America’s first Roman catholic president, Jack Kennedy.

Uncut knows better. Music. Celtic. Rome. The holy trinity of the Scottish left.

At a time of upheaval in the party and the country, Labour’s shadow defence secretary is radically conformist. While Ed Miliband was meeting  the teenage leaders of the EMA protest, Jim Murphy was rubbing shoulders with some of the stiffest collars in Westminster.

“We’re doing five major pieces of work as part of our shadow defence review. Future threats, procurement, size and shape of the armed forces, support for veterans and their families and reform of institutions. On procurement we’re involving Alan West, former first sea lord, Bill Thomas, former senior vice president of Hewlett-Packard and Tony Roulstone, former managing director of Rolls-Royce nuclear”.

His boss is urging Britain’s rebellious youth to fight the power. Murphy is trying to harness it.

“We’re told repeatedly there’s a disconnect between the emotion of the armed forces and the emotion of the Labour party. The old argument was that Labour was in favour of the NHS and the Tories in favour of the armed forces. I don’t think there’s any future for the party if we don’t match our attachment to the NHS with a deep, DNA level attachment for our troops”.

Not many Labour politicians would so readily beat their ploughshares into swords. Calling on the party to cherish the SAS with the same fervor that we cherish the nation’s ward sisters and midwives is a bold ask. But Jim Murphy likes to lead from the front.

As President of the NUS he scrapped the union’s traditional opposition to student grants, bringing it in line with Labour policy. In response, Ken Livingstone tabled a House of Commons motion condemning his “intolerant and dictatorial behaviour”.

“Ah, Ken. I get on fine with him. I just put that motion down to his youthful indulgence”.

There are other youthful indiscretions which find him less understanding. His office directly overlooks Parliament Square, granting him a ring side seat to last Thursday’s tuition fees protest. He wasn’t impressed.

“I could see the demo from my window. The government are wrong to do what they’re doing, of course they are. But those people who say ‘well, at least the violence gets it on the tele’ – they shouldn’t mistake publicity for victory. You think the way to get working class supporters, many of whom haven’t ever been inside a university to take the side of student demonstrators is to riot? That’s upside down politics. It’s too detached from real people’s experiences. Look, it’s not my business any more, but when I was NUS president I thought that during a Tory government you had to have something. No policy doesn’t beat a bad policy”.

It was a lesson he took from student politics into government. As one of Tony Blair’s Scottish fixers he helped mastermind the wipe out of the Tories north of the border in 1997, including his own improbable victory in Eastwood, on a 14% swing. By the time the pendulum swung back, he was Scottish secretary.

“Why did I win my seat back in 1997? It wasn’t because of me. I won a seat Labour hadn’t won since the 1920s because no one could complete the sentence,  in a positive way, ‘I’m voting for John Major because…’. You could say ‘I’m voting for John Major to stop Labour; because I don’t like Tony Blair’. But it was exclusively negative. In politics you’ve always got to be able to complete that sentence in a way that somehow captures the emotions and the worries that people have. In 2010 people weren’t able to do that with us. In cabinet we ended up having conversations about whether we were the change to or whether we were the experience team, and we ended up being neither”.

He acknowledges, though, that the problems weren’t just related to messaging. He singles out our stance on the deficit. Or lack of one.

“On cuts versus savings it was about being up front about the cuts we were going to have to make. It was about saying ‘look, every family’s making savings, we’re going to have to make savings’. We weren’t strong enough on that”.

The election defeat hit many in the party hard. Jim Murphy had little time to mourn; walking straight out of one campaign into another.

As David Miliband’s campaign manager, he fought hard in a losing cause. Ed Miliband’s staff, who dealt directly with him during liaison talks, were taken aback by his aggressive style; though they say that since the election his has engaged with their office positively.

“Look, obviously I didn’t want Ed to beat David Miliband, but I’m desperate for him to beat David Cameron. The Labour party can only have one leader. We’ve got a leader, and any disagreement I had with Ed is miniscule compared to the disagreements I have with this mob that are in power”.

Ed Miliband can rely on Murphy’s support. But it will not be unconditional. There is small ‘c’ working class conservatism to Jim Murphy’s politics that does not sit easily alongside his boss’s instinctive liberalism.

“Look, I’m very comfortable with this Lib Dem stuff. There’s a lot of effort been put in to poach Lib Dem voters, people who are worried about cctv and asbos, and that’s right. But, and I know it’s a balancing act, I’m as least as worried about another group who are concerned about cctv and asbos. That’s the folk who think we didn’t do enough of them. People who abide by the rules, never break a law, never enters their mind to break a law; and they look over their shoulder and they see people who they think are taking advantage of the system. Now, we did some good things on welfare reform, and we got a better immigration system. But too many decent people thought we were in favour of someone else. So in a contest for these Lib Dem voters who are worried about cctv and asbos, we shouldn’t forget about the others,  and I think they are the larger group, who are worried we didn’t do enough”.

There is a significant constituency within the party which shares this analysis. Some are starting to see Jim Murphy as their standard bearer. Could he please provide Uncut with the bland, stock response politicians always give to questions concerning personal leadership ambition.

“Whose saying these things. My enemies”? he laughs.  “OK, here’s my bland, stock response. If anyone plots or plans to become leader of the Labour party they should automatically be disqualified”.

Jim Murphy has no such plans. Which, according to his own definition, makes him a contender. Keep an eye on Labour’s conservative radical. Others are.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.

Jim Murphy is the Labour MP for East Renfrewshire and shadow secretary of state for defence. He blogs here .

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3 Responses to “Music. Celtic. Rome. Dan Hodges interviews Jim Murphy”

  1. Liz McShane says:

    Interesting article. Shame about the writer’s grammar though.

  2. KP says:

    If Jim Murphy is the answer, wtf is the question?? He has had no significant life experience – came straight out of the NUS and into politics and he reckons he knows what the working class feel??

    He’s just part of the political class and the sooner Labour puts an end to those types and brings in Labour PPC’s with a bit of hinterland, the better!!!

    So future leader?? You’re having a laugh right!!?

  3. iain says:

    Murphy’s defining moment was his gut wrenchingly despicable performance at the Despatch Box during the Lisbon Treaty debate. The deceit oozed from every pore…

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