Jim Murphy is the new leader of Scottish Labour. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Jim Murphy MP is elected Scottish Labour leader

The Labour MP for East Renfrewshire, former Scottish Secretary and former shadow cabinet member has won the Scottish Labour leadership contest.

Jim Murphy, Labour MP for East Renfrewshire, has won the Scottish Labour leadership contest. Here are the full results:

Jim Murphy: 55.59 per cent

Neil Findlay: 34.99 per cent

Sarah Boyack: 9.42 per cent

Kezia Dugdale, MSP for the Lothian Region, was voted the new deputy leader, beating Katy Clark MP by 62.9 per cent to 37.1 per cent.

Murphy described it as a "remarkable honour" and the achievement of a "dream". He said:

Today is a fulfilment of a dream for me. I’ve always dreamt of being appointed the captain of a team in the east end of Glasgow . . . Scotland is changing and so too must Scottish Labour. I’m ambitious for our party because I’m ambitious for our country . . . There can be no excuses now: we have the power, the question is do we have the purpose? . . . I understand the cries for change . . . I was born here, I live here, I will lead here. I will always put Scotland first. Nothing is beyond us if we work together. First we have to tear down those barriers that hold back so many of our fellow citizens.

He concluded his speech by saying he sees this as an opportunity to build, "the fairest nation on earth".

The candidates had been jostling to become leader of the Labour party in Scotland since Johann Lamont resigned from the post following the Scottish independence referendum, accusing Westminster colleagues of treating the party in Scotland like a "branch office".

The frontrunner Murphy, who has served as Secretary of State for Scotland, beat the left-winger, and predicted favourite among the union voters, Neil Findlay MSP and less high-profile backbencher Sarah Boyack MSP to the post. He is the only one of the three candidates not to currently hold a seat in Holyrood, and has a huge challenge ahead on a personal level, as well as politically.

As a former member of Ed Miliband's frontbench and often (rather crassly) described as a "Blairite", he will have to persuade an electorate, and a party, sick of Westminster insiders issuing instructions from on high and failing to engage with the Scottish people, that he understands their concerns. He could use his supposed "insider" status to Scottish Labour's advantage; negotiating effectively with his contacts in Westminster should avoid the "branch office" situation Lamont so lamented when she resigned.

He was popular among No voters during the Scottish referendum campaign chiefly due to the energy and commitment displayed by his "100 towns, 100 days" tour around Scotland, standing on his trusty Irn-Bru crates to convince Scots to remain in the Union. Also, his path from Westminster to Holyrood suggests that he doesn't see Scotland as a holding pen for someone wanting to advance their political career in London. He has confirmed that he will leave Westminster for Holyrood if he wins, and would do well to avoid "London elite" attacks from the SNP by ruling out standing again as an MP in 2015.

Politically, his great task is to heal the Scottish Labour party's wounds, inflicted by the rise of the SNP, and a continuing loss of support from Labour's traditional base in Scotland. Particularly worrying for Labour is the prospect of the SNP winning so many seats in the general election that it could completely scupper Labour's chances of being in power, let alone winning a majority. As our leader this week points out, in 2010 the SNP won six seats at Westminster, and now even conservative estimates predict that the figure could treble next May. A YouGov poll out this morning shows the SNP on 47 per cent, with Labour 20 points behind. 

Murphy's well-known support for Trident (a deal-breaker for the SNP if it enters into a form of alliance with Labour in Westminster), and late enthusiasm for devolving full income tax raising powers to the Scottish Parliament, could cause him some problems when he attempts to win support back from the SNP for Labour. But this is the least of his worries: the huge structural problem for Labour's support in Scotland, born of a complacency going back beyond the referendum, and SNP landslide in 2011, will be tough for just one man to fix – particularly with the general election just five months away.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

To beat the Trump hype, we need a return to old-fashioned political virtues

If we want to resist the Trumpification of politics, what we need is restraint, duty and incorruptibility.

After the 1992 US presidential election, Alistair Cooke’s celebrated BBC radio series Letter from America struck a poignant note. Cooke described Bill Clinton’s worn jeans and checked wool shirt, contrasting them with George H W Bush’s buttoned-up Wasp manners and buttoned-down Ivy League shirts. Clinton’s style, Cooke argued, was a rebuke to a tired social and political establishment. His casualness was the new America.

Cooke, then 83, was honest enough to admit unease about this departure from the old, patrician modes and manners. “Along with the passing of George Bush,” he said, “we shall see, I fear, the passing of the blue blazer.” Cooke seemed right at the time. But don’t write off the blue blazer just yet. As ruling elites change, so does the appropriate counterpoint. To topple Bush’s stuffy golf club elites, Clinton picked up his saxophone, took off his tie and felt everyone’s pain. And now? The subtext of these turbulent months (the inevitable second question, prompted by “How do you beat Donald Trump?”) is: “What should ­tomorrow’s leaders, the leaders we crave, look and sound like?”

My conjecture is that, to beat Trump and his type – bling, shiny suits, dodgy deals – we should push towards centre stage an underestimated set of political virtues: restraint, duty and incorruptibility. If it weren’t for the gender associations, I would be tempted to call this quality gentlemanliness. Aside from personal virtue – signally lacking in the Clinton camp – how might decency inform public debate as it comes under attack from maverick showmen trained in the media circus? How can the middle ground regain its confidence?

First, level with the public. Maybe liberalism hasn’t failed so much as its messaging has failed. Instead of smashing the electorate over the head with the idea that everything is just great, make the case that not everything can be for the best in all possible worlds. As populists reach for empty slogans, a new space has opened up. Accept and exploit those asymmetries: more people are ready to hear uncomfortable truths than politicians imagine.

Kingsley Amis once argued that a writer’s voice should stay close to his speaking voice: not the same, but close. Adapting that idea, if politicians stayed closer in public debate to the truths that they articulate in casual conversation – some things are impossible; almost every policy creates a losing as well as a winning side; there really isn’t any money – they would be surprised how many people are ready to hear that not all problems can be evaporated into thin air. Stray too far from awkward truths and elections become about simple lies v tricksy lies.

Second, centrists do more harm than good when they rush to categorise dissenting opinion as not only wrong, but unacceptable. “Any suggestion that liberal values are not humanly universal,” as John Gray wrote in a recent NS essay, “will provoke spasms of righteous indignation.” Instead, we need to be more tolerant in our tolerance.

Third, stop pretending that everything desirable can be shoehorned into the “progressive” agenda. “I really care passionately about persevering with the common-sense middle ground and doing it quite well” is a problematic political sales pitch, but not for the reasons that are usually given. The gravest difficulty may come at the beginning, with the faux passion, rather than with the substance – public service and competence – underneath.

It is revealing that those closest to David Cameron expended so much energy trying to persuade us that he was not an updated version of Harold Macmillan. That is why the gay marriage reforms, though admirable, were accorded too much significance. Ah, Cameron was a natural crusader! But he paid a price for dressing up as a “radical” when greater challenges arrived. It weakened some of his strongest cards – calmness, perspective, proportion – just as politics was coarsening. Aren’t Tories supposed to understand the virtues of yesterday? In other words, as an electoral strategy to beat Trump (or Nigel Farage), I’d put up a Macmillan type over a Clinton type every time.

Fourth, cut ties with “messaging experts”. It’s a fraud. They teach that everything must be asserted with powerful conviction. Yet ideas unworthy of powerful conviction are best left shorn of them. The electorate has endured a communications version of crying wolf. As a result of the messaging game, when something genuinely important crops up, it sounds simply like the same old shtick.

Fifth, ditch the bogus quantification. Few things signal untrustworthiness more reliably than fake precision. Something shifted in me when George Osborne argued that Brexit would leave households £4,300 worse off. What, no decimal point? Voters understand uncertainty better than politicians imagine. Precise quantification used to sound professional. Now it sounds suspicious.

Finally, think about tone. Conventional wisdom holds that the mainstream must fight the Trumpian revolution on its own terms: a simple solution, memorably expressed, a guiding vision for the country or the world. If anyone has a good one to hand, I’m all for it. But what if – after decades of ­sophisticated argument and counterargument, as politics has solved the easy problems while parking the difficult or insoluble ones – we have reached a state of such evolved equilibrium that no such easy answer can exist?

Pretending otherwise is no longer a point of difference. It takes you towards the lowest common denominator. As Trump has shown, that is well-occupied territory. Perhaps wooing the angry mob is not the solution. Instead, the admirable and successful politician of the future will have to win back the support of moderate, sensible but disillusioned voters. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage