Westminster is a strange place at the moment.
Earlier in the week, Labour’s Last Man Standing in Scotland got himself some time on the telly, to have a wee rant about the SNP “voting with the extreme right of the Tory Party” on the proposal of Full Fiscal Autonomy.
I laughed when I heard that.
I laughed for three reasons.
First, it was Murray himself who challenged the SNP to bring the matter to the floor of the Commons in the first place, and that was only a week ago.
Secondly, the SNP voted with a handful of Tories on an amendment to grant Scotland the powers of Full Fiscal Autonomy right now; the SNP’s own motion envisioned that coming somewhat further down the line.
Third, and finally, it was the assembled ranks of Labour who marched into the voting booth with the Tories on this issue, to deny Scotland that which our MP’s have asked for.
Murray must think we all button up the back.
He got his one day headlines, but that’s all he got.
The discredited, shambles of a party to which he belongs leaves little scope for anything else.
At the moment, Team56 might as well be the official opposition, because Labour is so busy naval gazing it has no time, or inclination, to do anything else.
And isn’t it a depressing sight, when you look at the field for next “leader”?
Scotland ought to be viewing the goings on in Labour with the deepest despair, because no-one who is watching the leadership election believes any of those candidates has the remotest chance of winning the next general election.
Which means we’re probably not even at the midway point of a long, bleak period of Tory rule. Not even Cameron’s decision not to seek a third election run makes that more palatable; in fact, when you look at the prospects to succeed him, it makes your skin crawl.
This is precisely what the Yes campaign was warning our fellow Scots about, and its worse even than it looks … and it looks pretty bad.
Because it is now an acknowledged fact that the next Labour leader is going to have to give England his or her full attention, and they’re also going to have to combat the perception that the party went “too far to the left” last time.
This means a Labour Party which embraces austerity ever more tightly, one that surrenders to the reactionary right of its own membership and takes us into dark places. On one of the most fundamental issues facing the next parliament – whether or not to agree to a colossally irresponsible and potentially deadly “in-out” referendum on Europe – they have already surrendered all the ground, reversing their position and backing that very thing.
Last night they went even further, and abstained on a crucial vote to impose a period of “purdah” during the race. Had they voted, along with the SNP and a handful of Tory rebels, to make that part of the campaign, Cameron would have suffered his very first Commons defeat … only a few weeks into the parliamentary term.
That his own backbenchers had helped inflict that on him … it would have given him the jitters, and opened the first serious fissure across the party. When The National ran this morning with a picture of Harriet Harmann missing an open goal, they were, as usual, right on the money.
Last night, Labour sat on its hands, spineless, supine, eyeing the landscape rather than moving in for an easy, quick, kill.
Some on their benches doubtless think it makes them look statesmanlike, although God alone knows why.
In truth, it is diabolical politics, making them look weak at best and at worst absolutely without a clue.
The sheer stupidity of all this is hard to take, and it rings in the ears of those who have said the party lacks direction.
Changing course on the referendum, after the election defeat, makes zero sense.
Sitting last nights vote out makes zero sense.
It looks both tactically and strategically idiotic.
All during the election campaign, there were voices within Labour who wanted to offer the referendum as part of the manifesto package.
They were over-ruled by others who saw the dangers in that.
Yet it would take a major failure in comprehension not to see that had Labour supported a referendum before the last election they would have neutralised a large chunk of the UKIP vote.
They might even have halted the inevitable drift to the Tories which certainly occurred on election night when those who want us out of Europe had to choose between the party that promised them a referendum on it and the one that said they would never consent to one.
What’s worse is that I always thought Labour would flip, and so did many commentators. People were saying this change of direction was inevitable as long ago as last year, so it didn’t take a genius to see it coming, simply because it was politically expedient and made good strategic sense.
I just didn’t expect them to do it now, when it accomplishes absolutely nothing and no longer has teeth.
For them to have changed their tune so quickly after the result compounds this sheer insanity.
Having gone to the polls with this position, their opposition to the referendum was one of the best cards Labour still held. Cameron’s majority is wafer thin. There are enough Tory backbenchers who know this is madness, and who could have been convinced to vote against it, that they could have bloodied Cameron badly and unleashed the demons on his own back benches.
The Tory Party might well have suffered total meltdown as we watched.
But Labour has no strategy, not even when opportunities are handed to them on a plate.
Labour has no leader and it’s going to take months to elect one.
It’ll be a year before he or she has a full team up and running, and even longer before they have a coherent policy offer, and that’s if we get one at all. Ed Miliband managed to go a full parliamentary term without putting a halfway decent one together.
Labour appears to have no future, at least in the immediate sense.
You simply cannot concieve of any of its prospective leaders growing into the job in time to turf the Tories out.
The position in Scotland is just as chronic, perhaps more so.
Kezia Dugdale will last two years if she’s very lucky, and the party will tear her to pieces and start pining for the next hero, probably turning the clock back to nominate some defeated Blairite from the race just run.
They don’t even understand where they’ve gone wrong.
In Glasgow and London they’ve already drawn all the wrong conclusions and are doing all the wrong stuff.
Jim Murphy presented his “big idea” at the weekend, and the party embraced it enthusiastically.
And what were the bullet points? (Labour loves bullet points.)
More central vetting of candidates … because that’s worked well in the past, hasn’t it?
Further eroding of the union link, because God forbid they have a connection to working people and the organisations which represent them.
Changing the way the regional lists work, so that more of the old guard – i.e. those who were routed in the election just past – can climb right back aboard the gravy train and get into Holyrood.
If they are elected, which isn’t a done deal.
There’s also a proposal to remove the time limits which the party currently puts on new members before they can stand for office, something they’re stealing from the SNP but which I predict will end in disaster for both parties if the local constituencies are over-ruled in favour of centralised selection committees and their tendency to go for people who can say the right words and trumpet the party line but don’t have an original thought in their heads.
In my view, party members should be required to put in their time, to do a shift, to have manned the phone banks and posted letters and been active for a certain period of time before they get selected for seats.
This isn’t rocket science; it weeds out careerists and wannabees.
On top of that, you can’t help but notice that this is all about process, about internal organisation, about rebuilding the party machine. There’s nothing in this grand plan for the actual voters, no sense that the people behind it understand how the last major defeats came about, no sign of real engagement with the issues or an effort to reach out to the ordinary punters.
Labour still assumes that this moment will pass.
Murphy is not alone in believing all this “quasi-religious cult” nonsense, not realising that the writing was on the wall for many years before now and that they inflamed the anger of people with their own conduct.
He and others leer at Nicola Sturgeon, and at those of us who find her inspiring, sneering at “personality politics” and yet all the while they, themselves, are looking for the next Blair clone.
You only have to marvel at the collective mourning when Chuka Umunna – a guy who’s accomplished precisely nothing of note in his political career – dropped out of the race for the party leadership.
They would sacrifice a candidate with good ideas for one who looks good on the telly.
Now they talk about nominating a woman as party leader purely to create a contrast between Labour and the Tories, because otherwise one wouldn’t exist. They cling to the fantasy that this will suddenly turn around their fortunes as if the sex of the candidate is enough to suddenly make the magic happen. It is truly desperate stuff.
This is bad, and not only for Labour.
In Westminster it gives Cameron carte blanche to do what he likes, and it also negatively affects the political climate in Scotland.
It gives license to those who want to blame the SNP for every ill, who peddle the “fascist myth”, as though it were the fault of Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond that no effective opposition challenged them.
An effective opposition is essential for the health of a democracy though.
Scotland needs an effective opposition party to emerge, because otherwise you get stasis, and that is how governments become stale, and then complacent and finally corrupt.
When they aren’t being challenged.
When they aren’t being scrutinised.
When the mistakes they make – and all governments make mistakes – are not being highlighted and made to have consequences.
In Westminster right now the SNP are the opposition, and that’s likely to remain the case for quite some time.
Labour is going to move further to the right; that is inevitable because without being able to challenge in middle England they’re done for. The SNP surge has seen to that, and made Scotland virtually impossible to win back in 2020.
Here, in the land of my birth, I waited a long time to see Labour get the electoral pounding it has richly deserved for years beyond count. I thought they might learn from it, that it might clarify their thinking, force them into an understanding of where they’d gone wrong.
I see now how foolish that was.
That party looks done for.
Those still holding out hope that Labour offers some kind of answer, some chance for change, had better wise up … and quick. Murphy himself now believes another referendum is inevitable, and he’s right.
Because what’s the alternative?
Another long, dark period of Tory rule, that’s what.
And this one, with no end in sight.
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