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30 October 2014

Jim Murphy rejects “Blairite“ label but cautions against shift to the left

"The folk who say you can only do this from the left aren't following the lessons of recent Scottish electoral history," says the Scottish Labour leadership frontrunner. 

By George Eaton

The label attached most often to Jim Murphy is “Blairite”. And the frontrunner to become the new leader of Scottish Labour was one of the former PM’s most loyal defenders. But interviewed today on The World At One, he was unsurprisingly keen to shed this reputation. “There’s only one Blairite, really, and it’s Tony Blair. All those labels are in the past,” he said. On the Iraq war, he delivered the same line used by David Miliband during the 2010 Labour leadership election: “If we’d known then what we now know, none of us would have voted for it.” He added: “The approach I’m going to try and take is, I don’t care whether you’re left-wing, or right-wing, or New Labour, or Old Labour, it’s losing Labour I want to get rid of.”

There are some within Labour who argue that Murphy is doomed unless he moves Scottish Labour sharply to the left. Katy Clark, the MP North Ayrshire and Arran (one of those interviewed for my report on the party in this week’s magazine), told me: “There needs to be a shift to the left. The very clear message, not just at the referendum, but during the referendum even more so, was that people want to see political change, they want to see social change.

“Repeatedly people would say to me that they found Westminster politics very right-wing, they found the Tories very right-wing, they found Ukip even more right-wing, but, frankly, many people that historically would have looked to Labour, who voted Labour in recent elections, said very clearly that they didn’t think that Labour’s traditions were good enough and they wanted what we would call a more left-wing agenda, they wouldn’t necessarily put it in that way, but they wanted a move to the left from Labour. Scottish Labour needs to rise to that challenge.”

But Murphy cautioned against such an interpretation. “I think the folk who say you can only do this from the left aren’t following the lessons of recent Scottish electoral history,” he said. “One of the reasons that the SNP won is because they promised a bigger council tax freeze than any of the other political parties. The nature of nationalism, is that the SNP are both to the left of Labour and to the right of Labour depending on what the voters want to here. I want to come up with a sensible Labour answer to Scotland’s problems and that is about doing things differently here. This isn’t a blueprint of taking whatever they do in London and trying to apply it in Scotland.”

Rival leadership candidate Neil Findlay, the left-wing shadow health secretary, will be relieved that Murphy has left him with political space to occupy. He is on course to win the endorsement of Unite, whose Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said yesterday: “Neil Findlay’s declaration that he will stand for leader of the Scottish Labour Party should be welcomed – his democratic socialist credentials are without question and he has a proven track record of representing the interests of working people.” 

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While Murphy is still likely to win comfortably, one SNP source told me that the party was relishing the prospect of the trade unions, and Unite in particular (whose recent animus with Murphy dates from the Falkirk affair), opening fire on him. “Unless Ed can do a deal with them, the unions will cause problems for Jim,” a Labour figure warned.