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Game Over Man, Game Over.

Jim Murphy Scottish Labour Party leaderThe turning point in the movie Aliens comes just after the Colonial Marines have survived the massacre in the main complex on LV-426.

They are outside, seeing to their wounded, when their approaching drop ship begins to tilt in mid-air.

It sails over their heads and explodes into the ground, leaving them stranded on the cold hard rock, which, it so happens, is crawling with the black, fast moving aliens who have just routed their compadres.

One man sums that moment up, as he sums up so many moments in this dark, but brilliant film. It’s Hudson, played by the ever-watchable Bill Paxton.

“That’s it man!” he laments. “Game over man. Game over. What’re we gonna do now?”

What indeed.

Somewhere, earlier this week, a Scottish Labour activist was standing, hands on his head, repeating those same words, as Chukka Umunna gave his boss a good, hard, slap in the gob.

I physically winced listening to Umunna’s statement, I really did.

I chortled, but I winced.

Had it come from a politician in a rival party it would have been a sore one.

To come from someone in your own?

Ouch. Man, that’s gotta hurt.

Oh they are a mess, friends and comrades.

They are an all-singing-all-dancing circus act of a shambles.

No wonder the tattered remnants of the activist base are in despair, although the UK national picture still looks pretty good, one rogue poll aside.

Campaigners work locally, not nationally. They rejoice in their own little moments, not in what they mean for the bigger picture. They all want to win their local races, to take part in their personal glory, especially in a tight battle. If there’s a triumph on that bigger stage then, obviously, they feel pride in that … but for most of them it’s the local stuff that matters.

None felt good about having to go on the stump and defend “austerity lite”, but some of them were gamely soldiering on, one eye ever on the career ladder.

Then UK Labour dropped a nuke on their campaign.

And you know what? Some of us saw it coming a mile away.

A month ago, I wrote an article about Jim Murphy, wondering what in the Hell he was doing telling the world that the leafy shires of England would be paying for his socialist revolution up here.

I speculated that maybe he was trying to throw a spanner in the works of the UK national campaign, for whatever reason.

One thing was clear; a lot of party strategists in London already think it’s Scottish Labour’s dire performance thus far that is depriving them of a commanding lead in the seat count, and making Ed Miliband a virtual certainty to take up residence in Number 10.

Earlier in the campaign, one of them told a national newspaper that “if those Scottish monkey’s had done their job, we wouldn’t be in this mess.”

At the time, I laughed at that comment despite the casual racism in it.

It amazed me that serious people in a political organisation would talk with such deep disdain about their fellow members in another part of the country. If you want a good example of how major organisations, hell even armies and empires, start to break down, well it begins with that, with a collapse in confidence between people, and the casting about for folk to blame when things go wrong.

Yet since then, Murphy has given them ever more cause to doubt his sanity, and to discount any notion that he has genuine skills, with a series of half-assed performances in the debates and a brutal, and deteriorating, campaign which makes the “Irn Bru Tour” look like something planned by the promotors of The Rolling Stones.

I think back, with something approaching glee – and I have to admit that – to the comments from Fraser Nelson and others, most of them on the right, who celebrated Murphy’s ascension to the Scottish Labour leadership as it if suddenly fixed every problem the party up here had.

And I know why they thought so too.

See, one of the things that has long haunted Labour is this obsession with the Saatchi and Saatchi way of doing politics.

As usual, this is based on a misreading of what advertising executives in politics do.

This all started with the focus groups, you know.

Way back in the late eighties, Labour started to hire consultants like the Tories did.

The idea was to ‘re-brand’ the party. It worked. It worked very well.

Then, someone had a bright idea; “let’s not work so hard on getting people to change their minds. Let’s find out what they want and give that to them.”

They stopped trying to sell progressive ideas, which is what the brand managers and the consultants had been brought in to do in the first place

See, if Mandelson and Philip Gould had stuck to that job, had done what they were supposed to, this country would be a different place.

Were they too lazy, or something else? Whatever, it doesn’t matter.

They decided that it was easier to change what the party believed in than to change what people want.

Forget that a good advertising campaign can sell just about anything to just about anyone; they took the low road. The easy road.

So the focus groups were brought in, and every policy idea was road-tested by the kind of people who have an afternoon to spare going to seminars and sitting in rooms drinking coffee speculating on the value of ideas.

Think there were working class people in those rooms?

Have you ever been on a focus group, outside of a political event?

I’ve been in and on the periphery of politics since I was 16 and I have never been on one and don’t know a soul who has.

Yet it was from these people that Labour took its lead, and it was around them that it started to build its entire identity, and that’s where the real downward trajectory began.

See, John Smith was in charge back then, but the party was desperate for power.

Yet he was a good man, and he and Kinnock knew the marketing people and the consultants could be of some value.

See, Neil and John wanted to modernise the image … not change the policies.

They certainly didn’t do it to chase the approval of afternoon coffee drinkers from the shires.

One of the things I love most about Alex and Nicola is the way in which they’ve captured the imaginations of people by talking about progressive issues in a common sense way that makes it attractive to ordinary folks.

Sexy Socialism, as I’ve taken to calling it.

I hate to say it, but that common sense, straight talking manner is what the Tories stumbled on when they found Thatcher.

Policies designed to appeal to aspiration and hope – even if they were deeply, shockingly cynical – helped.

But it was the marketing people who made her so formidable.

That was the lesson the Labour Party learned, and as usual it was the wrong one.

So, the focus groups told them what was trending and everything was styled towards what a certain class of people wanted to hear.

Fairies at the bottom of the garden? It’s done.

The end of boom and bust? You’ve got that too.

And because it’s tough to sell nothing, they needed better salesmen than they ever would have selling iron clad policies.

So Labour politics started to become dominated by personalities rather than than those.

That’s when the “brain drain” started.

Gone was any concept of choosing people for their imagination or conviction.

Instead, Labour started choosing people who could speak in the gobbledygook language of the advertising executive and it didn’t matter that what they were selling became less valuable and more insubstantial over time. Maybe they even intended it to, all the better to disguise their true intentions which were to ride the middle of the road as long as possible and then drift right.

Regardless, they started to judge “talent” and “ability” based on who could sound best on TV, or could cultivate the best relationships with the press.

This is what PR people do.

Now they have a party full of them, and not an ounce of political skill. The same as David Cameron, actually, and it’s why in this bizarre political week you had the Tories trying to sound working class and Labour trying to sound like them.

That’s why neither side can break through. That’s why Labour in Scotland are presently being routed.

Jim Murphy is not a good politician and he never has been.

He looks “impressive” in the way a good actor playing a role does.

But the role isn’t reality. It’s all presentation, all style over substance, and lately not that much style either.

He’s learned to speak like an automaton, and the party has learned to manufacture controversies about the opposition … like today’s decision by Murphy and his team that the rest of this campaign will focus on the Full Fiscal Autonomy issue which isn’t an SNP policy as much as it’s a spoken out loud wish for some future time when Westminster is a difference place.

Essentially, Labour are campaigning on the dangers of something that would only happen if all of politics on this island was turned on its head. They are campaigning against ghosts. That’s how much they have on their own plate.

That’s how much idealism and inspiration they have in their own ranks.

Labour used to campaign on hope.

Now it runs on fear, and not even fear of anything real.

They have to invent phantoms to scare people to support them.

Even as I write this, the Fear Machine is busily churning out more lies and more spin, with press stories doing the rounds tonight about police stepping up their protection at Jim Murphy’s events.

Who does he think will be trying to take a shot at him?

I hope they are watching everyone with a Labour rosette on.

How bereft Labour has become.

Labour once had ideas. Ambitions. Goals. A vision.

It had these things because it also once had leaders, and leadership. It was once populated by sharp, passionate, ideologically driven people who wanted to change the world. When a political party is dominated by those kind of people it will never be short of ideas. Power, the attaining of government, is a means to an end. Winning is just the start.

Without ideas, what is power but an end in itself?

Labour forgot its purpose when Smith died. It became a windsock, and all Murphy and his cohort are able to do is follow the breeze. It’s what they know, and when they can no longer do that they are useless.

The party in London has sussed that about this guy, that he’s a busted flush, that he’s got nothing to give, that he lacks a clue, and that’s why they now feel comfortable having a shadow cabinet minister cutting him off at the knees.

They’ve grasped his failings, and it shocks them because they really did believe all they needed to do here was put a guy front and centre who could talk on the telly.

But instead of wondering if that’s the right strategy, you know what I’m willing to bet? That they’ve concluded that the SNP are doing so well only because they’ve got someone who does that better than him.

Labour’s problem is that it is unable to move past being a focus group organisation, and that won’t change no matter what calamitous events transpire on Election Day. This is the party which is filled with elements who think it chose the wrong brother, that the way David Miliband would have “played at the box office” would have given them a majority.

That this isn’t even remotely true has never dawned on them, and if it did it would, in all probability, scare the bejesus out of them.

Because then they’d need to face what the Scottish branch soon will, when Murphy and his group are savaged a mere few weeks from now.

“Game over man. Game over. What’re we gonna do now?”

Murphy was supposed to be the Great White Hope, the strongest card in their deck. He was supposed to give them stability and a new start. As many of us predicted, all he’s done is expose their soulless lack of any conviction, ideals or credibility in a way that is the stuff of Nicola Sturgeon’s dreams. The longer you watch him the more you think “dead man walking”, and that appears to be the general consensus south of the border.

But Labour’s problems here don’t end the day after the election.

If the SNP is propping up a Miliband administration one of two things will happen; they’ll either get major concessions for Scotland, and look like heroes or Labour will buck and try to bounce them … and that will assure another Holyrood landslide with the second referendum a certainty as Nicola and Alex can claim a democratic deficit that changes the rules.

In either instance, what will be Murphy’s line of attack for the Scottish elections next year?

I’ve thought about this all week and I am no closer to an answer and I’m betting neither he nor those around him have the first clue.

If the SNP are supportive of Miliband what’s he going to hit them for?

If Scotland is getting a raw deal, how does he benefit?

The SNP will only gain any concession that Labour grants them, so he can’t realisitcally complain about anything they get.

If they’re denied resources or support for this country then Nicola will hang that around his own neck.

In any event, no matter what, no-one on down there will have any incentive to do him a favour.

When it comes to the crunch he’ll have to defend cuts and won’t be able to make any promise that London can’t write him a cheque for.

Those things will kill him.

I don’t believe his ego can handle that. He’s finished, and if he possesses an ounce of strategic sense he must see it coming. He might as well chuck it now, and save himself the humiliation of presiding over two massive, shattering defeats in a row.

So game over. But what’s next?

Where’s the next leader here coming from?

There is no obvious one in the Scottish party, unless they learn something profound about what has gone wrong, and even then it’ll be too late to matter. I’ve seen the “next generation” of Labour high flyers in this fair land and if you thought this one was vacuous, shallow and self-absorbed … well, you ain’t seen nothing yet, my friends.

A lot of you know them from their sneering, arrogant, utterly clueless displays during the referendum and when party insiders are mentioning Blair McDougall as a future Scottish Parliament leader you know the lunatics have taken over the asylum.

The Westminster ranks will have been culled, so they won’t even have a last place choice Blairite like Tom Harris to fall back on and the idea of some of these people migrating to Edinburgh is laughable.

The current Scottish Parliament team is useless, and that’s if you are being generous.

And there will be no revival of the left.

Umunna has shot that down in flames, by reminding us all what we already knew; Scottish Labour is a misnomer.

Labour in Scotland has no authority whatsoever. It gets its cue from London and that ain’t going to change.

Even if a progressive like Neil Findlay were in charge, could he make big promises? Redistributive ones? Progressive ones? Of course not. Some in the press think Murphy did, and even though they were modest at best, and most of them were rehashed Westminster policies tailored for a local audience, even that went too far for his masters south of the border.

Right now they are clueless. Soon enough they will, again, be leaderless.

What was once the most coveted seat in all of Scottish politics is now an electric chair.

Forget the Iron Throne.

This Irn Bru Throne could produce many more bloodbaths in the years to come.

Who will be next to sit amidst its broken bottles?

One thing is for sure; the present incumbent won’t be on it for long.

There are 21 days left to go.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock. Tick-tock.

Or, as Hudson says in another fantastic moment from Aliens;

“We’re on express elevator to Hell … Going down.”

(I work as a writer full time, and rely on what support I can get from my readers. If you can support this site by sharing it, promoting it or, better yet, making a small donation, that would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.)

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10 comments to “Game Over Man, Game Over.”
  1. Top article , i posted on FB ealier , re a election leaflet from Jim Murphy , it states , my pledges to you , point 2 ” Protect East Renfrewshire pensioners by fighting against SNP plans to scrap the UK ~ wide pension system ” words fail me ! Frightening the frail wi this drivel , ps . was it not Brown who started the 100 billion sellout of the pension system. more scare just like during the Referendum ! cheers, keep up the articles , will make a wee donation when the wages come in !

  2. John Smith is revered by many still, and I am confused as to why. John Smith was MP for Airdrie at the height of the Monklands Mafia scandal. When corruption was all around him, Mr Smith held the telescope to his ear and said I see no corruption. He ignored it as would have damaged his party nationally. Nothing has changed with the Labour party in that respect. The Party comes first, always.
    Bringing us up to date, Jim Murphy was parachuted in to lead the Scottish branch because there was not one MSP fit for purpose. Given that he has failed miserably we can at least look forward to going into the 2016 elections knowing that a decimated Labour will have guy few folk capable of running the show at Holyrood and even fewer capable of being parachuted in to replace Mr Murphy.

  3. ON scaremongering,Age Concern and Help the Aged
    should be guarding against this.They are not, so those at the top are colluding with Westminster.
    Complain to those organisations.
    To recycle those leaflets send them Freepost to;
    Freepost RSBB-XRZT-ZTXE
    Conservative Party Foundation
    SW1P 4DP

    • The only tiny little problem with the analogy was the detail it was NOT game over. They fought back.

      Otherwise, brilliant article.

  4. For anyone wondering – and apologies if i missed this in the blog post – Umunna’s key quote was, ‘The leader of the Scottish Labour Party will not be in charge of the UK budget.’

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