Tom Harris MP has yet another outing on television, this time as the first of the three Scottish Labour leadership candidates to be interviewed on Newsnicht.
But before I address the content, let me indulge my pedantry -
Glenn Campbell opens with a phrase and a sentence construction that is all over the media like a rash – the may be … but construction. It seems to open almost every political analysis these days, and if it isn’t opening one, it’s closing one. Glenn’s example is -
“It may have only just begun but already …” What Glenn is referring to is the Labour Leadership contest. There is no may about it it, Glenn, it has already begun.
The word may indicates a possibility that contains alternatives – Prince Charles may become king, but then again, he may not. But this would be wrong – “Elizabeth the Second may be queen but she is an old lady …” There is no may about it, she is the queen.
Tom Harris may become Labour leader, but he may not. The disjunctive coordinating conjunction but is all you need to make your point, Glenn. “It has just begun … but already …” You could have used the admittedly lengthier construction of “Despite the contest having just begun, already one party member ..” or alternatively “Although the contest has just begun, already one party member …”
Remember Dean Martin -
You may be king, you may possess
The world and its gold
But love won’t bring you happiness
When you’re growing old
Dino isn’t addressing a king or a rich man – he’s exploring future alternatives and offering good advice for choosing between them.
THE LABOUR LEADERSHIP CONTEST
Glenn Campbell explores Uncle Tam’s candidacy with him, and attempts to find out what he’s all about, with as little success as previous interviewers. (Isabel Fraser successfully exposed the vacuum at the heart of all of the three candidates’ policy thinking, but couldn’t fill it.)
In his intro, Glenn signals the blandness of, and lack of differentiation between the candidates. He picks up with a previous comment from Tom Harris in the Isabel Fraser group interview that Labour could cease to become relevant in the next few years. (It has in fact been irrelevant for decades – it just took the Scottish voters a long time to notice it.). Uncle Tam replied lugubriously that it couldn’t be any more serious, in fact, he sees this internal party election as a watershed event. He’s probably right, but of course his remarks serve to talk up the importance of his involvement in this historical moment – as an essentially marginal Labour figure, threatened, as all Scottish Labour MPs are by independence, he’s hoping for a political lifeboat to carry him to either a fully independent or a still devolved Holyrood, and despite unionist protestations, either outcome would suit him nicely.
He is throughout refreshingly and brutally frank about the failings of Scottish Labour and the campaign – he can afford to be because he was not part of it, whereas his two opponents were, something that hangs uneasily in the air of cosy consensus they try to generate.
“What are the right decisions – what is the key to the party’s survival?” asks Glenn. Policy and structure “doesn’t really matter at the moment” replies Tom – “We’re deciding who is going to lead the Scottish Party …” And Tam is not interested in being the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party – he wants to be First Minister, and he sees this as the key perception that voters should have of the candidates – who can stand up to Alex Salmond?
“What makes you different and better than the others in this contest?” If Glenn had put that question to an American candidate in a leadership contest, they would have seized the opportunity to talk policy and character differentiation with both hands. But Tom retreats into coy blandness - he modestly confesses to good communication skills and the ability to sell a vision of Scotland to voters – he can “portray a positive vision for Scotland within the United Kingdom”.
All this PR, spin doctor, media man stuff reminds me of marketing men addressing harassed front end sale people in commercial organisations, to be met with cries of “Never mind the gloss and spin, the product is crap – what are you going to do about that?” There is a scene in the film version of Barbarians at the Gate, (see final YouTube clip) the story of the RJR Nabisco takeover in the 1980s, when James Garner discovers that the new product, a cigarette that is going to save the company, tastes of shit. Cognitive dissonance is literally in the air as the senior executives try to convince themselves that everything is OK with the brand …
What’s Tom’s big idea? It appears to be to abandon the unemployed and those on benefit, and presumably the poor, the disabled and all the other inconvenient parts of society that demand our compassion and our help, and focus on people in jobs, shoving them up the social housing list. All of this will be achievable as part of the union with a strong devolved Parliament – and of course the inevitable concomitants of that – war as the operating principle of the state, nuclear weapons and WMDs based in Scotland, lunatic foreign entanglements, and power, wealth and influence – and Scottish resources and revenues - drained to the South East of England.
But Uncle Tam will still be in a job – the Uncle Tams of this world always are …
The three ducks were all in a row again in STV’s new Scotland Tonight programme, which I was unkind about on its first outing, but which has improved in leaps and bounds since. There was little that was new – more vacuity, more equivocation, more self-justification. But the battle lines are clearly drawn as follows -
TOM HARRIS: You two ****** it up in the last Parliament and the election campaign …
JOHANN LAMONT/KEN MACINTOSH: Naw, we didnae – there wis just a perception that we ****** it up …
MINIMUM PRICING FOR ALCOHOL – JACKIE BAILLIE AND BOB DORIS
We had what may now become a recurrent media phenomenon last night – the same topic with the same spokespersons running twice – once on Scotland Tonight and once on Newsnicht. It must be something to do with neutrinos and the speed of light. But if you had only watched the first programme, Scotland Tonight, feeling that the second, Newsnicht, was redundant, you would have missed important differences …
Bob Doris gave his impression of a killer shark, eyes glittering coldly, homing in on his prey. Jackie Baillie gave a formidable impression of his prey, waiting pluckily but apprehensively to be devoured. Jackie, of course, has no defence – her position is deeply flawed, intellectually, arithmetically and morally.
But Newsnight Scotland highlighted two key points missed by Scotland Tonight – one, that supermarkets won’t experience a windfall by minimum pricing if it actually works, since sales will fall. (Exactly how this will translate in money will already be the subject of frantic analysis by the supermarket bean counters – the media will take a long time to get round to it.) Two - the 45p figure is out of date and will be revisited on the re-run of the model, as Nicola Sturgeon has been explaining all over the media.
And of course, Labour and Jackie Baillie’s argument over supermarkets profiting is fatally compromised by their opposition to the Tesco Tax. The Scottish voters can smell hypocrisy a mile off, and Labour, the Tories and the LibDems reek of it.