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Can Jim Murphy hang on as leader of Scottish Labour amid calls for him to resign?

One Scottish Labour shadow cabinet member has quit, and two unions call for Murphy to resign.

When Jim Murphy was voted leader of Scottish Labour in December last year, he knew he had a hard road ahead. But the party didn't expect to fail quite so spectacularly, losing all but one of its Scottish seats in Westminster to the SNP. Including Murphy's seat, East Renfrewshire.

Following a bleak general election result for Labour throughout the UK, Murphy has decided to remain leader. He replied "yes" when asked if he could still become Scotland's First Minister in next year's Holyrood election.

But will he really be able to hang on to his position? There are calls within the party for his resignation. Ian Davidson, the Labour candidate who lost his Glasgow South West seat to the SNP, is urging Murphy to stand down as leader:

He was elected as party leader on the basis that he was an MP. Only MPs and MSPs can stand for the leadership. Morally, as the man who has led us to the biggest ever disaster that Labour has suffered in Scotland . . . of course he can’t continue. 

The process of rebuilding the Labour party has got to start with an examination of both personnel and ideas. And therefore Jim has got to do the honourable thing and resign. I’m sure once he has got time to reflect, he will do that.

Neil Findlay MSP, the leftwing candidate who ran against Murphy for the leadership, resigned from his position as work, skills and training spokesperson in Labour's shadow cabinet in the Scottish Parliament.

Two unions are calling for Murphy to resign - the influential Unite, and ASLEF, the train drivers' union.

The Scottish secretary of Unite, Pat Rafferty, said:

Change must begin with a new leader. It is surprising that Jim Murphy should feel he still has a mandate to lead the party after Thursday‘s results. I do not say this out of any personal animus.

Jim fought a courageous campaign, and the party’s problems clearly long predate his leadership. But staying on as leader will only prolong the party’s agony. Scottish Labour must be rebuilt from the ground up, free from the taint of machine politics and the legacy of the misjudgements of the last Labour government.

And ASLEF's Kevin Lindsay -  who represents the union's Scottish train drivers - commented:

Jim Murphy has just presided over the worst election defeat in the history of the Scottish Labour Party. He has to go — and he has to go now.

Ed Miliband, Harriet Harman, Nick Clegg, and even Nigel Farage have all stood down, accepting responsibility for, and the consequences of, defeat for their parties at the polls. It is, therefore, quite clear to most of us in the Scottish Labour Party what the right thing is for Jim Murphy to do.

Ironically, those four are still Parliamentarians. Jim Murphy isn’t. His position is untenable. What he does not appear to understand is that, with being leader, comes responsibility. Now Jim Murphy’s moral judgement is being questioned by the Scottish people as he tries desperately to cling on. 

Without anyone in place to defend him at Westminster, and fears of next year's Holyrood election among Labour's MSPs, will Murphy be able to hang on much longer? 

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.