It should be evident to all but the most blinkered right-wing Murphy media fan that Jimbo is not a deep thinker.
Despite presenting a media persona that affects profundity in its body language, Murphy is devoid of content – he’s a superficial, headline-grabbing soundbyte politician. You will search in vain for his deep thoughts in writing or in YouTube archives – Murphy’s tools are the ingratiating motherhood statement - oozing vague social concerns and that nauseating brand of Scottish Labour faux internationalism - alternating with a hectoring, blustering approach honed in long university student politics (at the taxpayers expense) and in the smoke-filled rooms of West of Scotland Labour politics, red in tooth and claw.
His core problem in trying to reverse his party’s fortunes before GE2015 is that of Scottish Labour epitomised in one man – the belief that values, policies and principles are coins that can be flipped over after the toss without the electorate noticing.
Time is running out fast for Jim – he was dumped by Miliband from his cabinet and from the shadow defence post that gave him his credibility in the Henry Jackson Society. His two mentors and role models – Tony Blair and David Miliband – are no longer around to support his right-wing HJS agenda of WMD and aggressive transatlantic US/UK hawkish foreign policy. He backed the wrong horse, the wrong Miliband in the Labour leadership election.
For a conviction politician, such setbacks would be a problem, but not for Jim Murphy, who is George Galloway in spirit, but without Galloway’s undoubted intellect and rhetorical gifts. Like Galloway, facing a declining career on the margins of Westminster politics, he looked north during the referendum campaign, and reached for his Irn-Bru crate.
Here was his big chance to grab media headlines and ingratiate himself, not only with Labour, Miliband, Brown and Darling et al, but with the right-wing unionist British Establishment and its shadowy international allies who held the key to the career path he probably aspired to – the Mandelsonian, Blairite, Robertsonish, David Milibandish high road to an international stage and the glittering prizes that awaited him.
It seemed to work, despite the eggings. The media began to call him a big beast, his face was everywhere. The plan seemed to be working. The NO vote prevailed. He seemed oblivious to the fact that the people of Glasgow were not too happy with him – indeed he wore their contempt as a badge of honour – and not even the fact that Glasgow voted YES, that Glasgow was YES City dented his complacency.
But it became evident even to a man as self-absorbed as Murphy that, post-referendum, a sea change had occurred in Scottish politics and the Scottish electorate, and things were not going according to plan. Scottish Labour – his party, was in a parlous state, as poll after poll chronicled their decline, while the SNP was doubling, then trebling, then quadrupling its membership.
As his allies melted away – Brown and Darling slinking off the stage - and as his Scottishness became a poisoned pill in London Labour’s electoral strategy – and as the British Establishment and their media shills displayed utter confusion and bafflement over why the Scots hadn’t just rolled over and peed up their bellies in craven submission after the indyref, his Westminster career looked even more uncertain and his Scottish heartland was moving en masse to the SNP and the other independence parties.
Could he rely on the former solidly Tory East Renfrewshire electorate to still stand behind his right-wing agenda – pro-Israel, pro-NATO, pro-HJS values, pro-WMD – or would they be affected by the great tectonic movement sweeping Scottish politics?
London Labour wanted none of him, an uncertain future faced him after May 2015. His Westminster defence contacts were diluted and fading fast, and the revolving doors out of the Commons and into armaments industry, commerce, non-exec directorships and consulting contract, open to many in his position, didn’t seem to be spinning invitingly in his direction. But Johann Lamont really focused his mind, in the manner of her resignation.
Time to flip the coin – time to re-invent, re-focus – time to get the tartan carpetbag out of the closet. He threw his hat in the ring for the Scottish Labour Leadership, won convincingly and the new Murphy emerged from the Tardis, swathed in tartan habiliments, now claiming to be of the Left, and militantly anti-London Labour.
But there was the inconvenient baggage of his Blairite past and the dumbells of Scottish Labour’s core referendum arguments to fall over at every turn – Iraq, support for Trident, faux internationalism, unionism and the pooling and sharing mantra.
The motherhood statements and the shining, but suitably vague social vision were wearing thin as the general election campaign loomed. Something headline-grabbing that resembled a policy had to be found, and what better one, in the grip of winter and both Scottish and rUK NHSs under severe resource challenges, than a bidding challenge on nurses to fire at the SNP.
The SNP were in government, forced to balance budgets squeaking under the strain of cuts caused by Labour, LibDem and Tory incompetence, but Jimbo didn’t have to deal with the real life! All he needed, as ever, was a gimmick …
THE THOUSAND NURSES AND THE MANSION TAX
Murphy’s thought processes, as outlined by him and by enthusiastic and admiring journalists and commentators (almost all from the right of the political spectrum) with as little understanding of post-indyref politics as himself, ran as follows -
1. The SNP is past the post-indyref honeymoon period, needs to defend its record, and show why problems exists in areas under its devolved control, especially the NHS.
2. To play down his right-wing unionist London-Labour past, and to kill the Lamont branch office label, he has to demonstrate independence of Westminster Labour, and make a big gesture of defiance.
3. Nurses, and the pressure on nursing staff, are one of the key problems in both NHSs, and nurses always elicit public sympathy and support.
4. Since real policy formation, rigorous thought and economic rationality are not in Jimbo’s skillset, a simple outbidding ploy was needed. 1000 is a nice round figure (e.g. 1000 extra policemen a la SNP 2007-2011) and 1000 extra nurses is even nicer.
So – Murphy as FM would match any SNP staffing commitment by promising 1000 nurses on top of it. But how to fund it? Easy – the mansion tax, popular on the left, unpopular on the right. Bash the rich, fund more nurses. In the Jim Murphy Ladybird Book of Politics, this was a nice wee simple story to feed a gullible Scottish electorate, especially the fabled 200,000 older Labour voters who were going to swing the election his way.
But this would offend London Labour and Westminster, since it would be essentially the London mansion owners who would fund it. Simples! Let them be offended – this would demonstrate that born-again socialist, Scottish Murphy is not afraid to put Scotland first and take the branch office sign down.
What’s wrong with this? Just about everything …
THE WORMS IN THE MURPHY APPLE
1. The Scottish electorate are no longer the gullible, reflex Labour-voting automatons that Labour relied on for generations – honed on the grindstone of the referendum campaign, they are now politically aware, social media adept, engaged, articulate and sceptical – and organised.
2. The pooling and sharing rationale, worked to death by Murphy et al during the indyref campaign, was never credible to YES supporters, and never mattered to rUK voters – except the ill-informed – because in practice, it didn’t work that way.
But in the post-indyref climate of rUK electorate resentment against Scottish vibrancy after defeat, SNP resurgence and the Smith Commission, a major sense of resentment and inequality was building over what was perceived as bribes to Scots losers.
And now pooling and sharing was expected to favour already bribed Scots and the Scottish NHS over the rUK electorate and the rUK NHS with English - nay, London! - house owners taxes!
This was guaranteed to upset just about everybody, except the right-wing media claque for Murphy. The Tories wouldn’t like it, Londoners of all shades of political allegiance wouldn’t like it, and for Miliband’s Labour Party in electioneering mode, it would be folly to endorse it.
But crucially, the Scottish electorate that Murphy hopes to con with his pledge know that he can’t deliver it without the support of Westminster, which won’t be forthcoming – and that it’s therefore an empty gesture.
And empty gestures are the essence of Jim Murphy …