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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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The NS leader: Cold Britannia

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. 

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. The polls suggest a series of grim election defeats across Britain: Labour is 10 points behind the Conservatives even in Wales, putting Theresa May’s party on course to win a majority of seats there for the first time in a century. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the psephologist John Curtice expects the resurgent Tories, under the “centrist” leadership of Ruth Davidson, to gain seats while Labour struggles to cling on to its single MP.

Where did it all go wrong? In this week’s cover essay, beginning on page 26, John Harris traces the roots of Labour’s present troubles back to the scene of one of its greatest triumphs, on 1 May 1997, when it returned 418 MPs to the Commons and ended 18 years of Conservative rule. “Most pop-culture waves turn out to have been the advance party for a new mutation of capitalism, and so it proved with this one,” Mr Harris, one of the contributors to our New Times series, writes. “If Cool Britannia boiled down to anything, it was the birth of a London that by the early Noughties was becoming stupidly expensive and far too full of itself.”

Jump forward two decades and London is indeed now far too dominant in the British economy, sucking in a disproportionate number of graduates and immigrants and then expecting them to pay £4 for a milky coffee and £636,777 for an average house. Tackling the resentment caused by London’s dominance must be an urgent project for the Labour Party. It is one that Mr Corbyn and his key allies, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott, are not well placed to do (all four are ultra-liberals who represent
London constituencies).

Labour must also find a happy relationship with patriotism, which lies beneath many of the other gripes made against Mr Corbyn: his discomfort with the institutions of the British state, his peacenik tendencies, his dislike of Nato and military alliances, his natural inclination towards transnational or foreign liberation movements, rather than seeking to evolve a popular national politics.

New Labour certainly knew how to wave the flag, even if the results made many on the left uncomfortable: on page 33, we republish our Leader from 2 May 1997, which complained about the “bulldog imagery” of Labour’s election campaign. Yet those heady weeks that followed Labour’s landslide victory were a time of optimism and renewal, when it was possible for people on the left to feel proud of their country and to celebrate its achievements, rather than just apologise for its mistakes. Today, Labour has become too reliant on misty invocations of the NHS to demonstrate that it likes or even understands the country it seeks to govern. A new patriotism, distinct from nationalism, is vital to any Labour revival.

That Tony Blair and his government have many detractors hardly needs to be said. The mistakes were grave: the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, a lax attitude to regulating the financial sector, a too-eager embrace of free-market globalisation, and the failure to impose transitional controls on immigration when eastern European states joined the EU. All contributed to the anger and disillusionment that led to the election as Labour leader of first the hapless Ed Miliband and then Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time rebel backbencher.

However, 20 years after the victory of the New Labour government, we should also acknowledge its successes, not least the minimum wage, education reform, Sure Start, a huge fall in pensioner poverty and investment in public services. Things did get better. They can do so again.

The far right halted

For once, the polls were correct. On 23 April, the centrist Emmanuel Macron triumphed in the first round of the French election with 24 per cent of the vote. The Front National’s Marine Le Pen came second with 21.3 per cent in an election in which the two main parties were routed. The two candidates will now face off on 7 May, and with the mainstream candidates of both left and right falling in behind Mr Macron, he will surely be France’s next president.

“There’s a clear distinction to be made between a political adversary and an enemy of the republic,” said Benoît Hamon, the candidate of the governing Parti Socialiste, who had strongly criticised Mr Macron during the campaign. “This is deadly serious now.” He is correct. Mr Macron may be a centrist rather than of the left but he is a democratic politician. Ms Le Pen is a borderline fascist and a victory for her would herald a dark future not just for France but for all of Europe. It is to Donald Trump’s deep shame that he appeared to endorse her on the eve of the vote.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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