I saw Labour leadership favourite Jim Murphy being interviewed on television last week. He came across well.
It seemed Murphy is a politician who actually cares about people and society. With a slow, thoughtful delivery, it would have been easy for viewers to think the MP for Eastwood understands the hardship being endured by so many Scots and wants to implement policies to lift the suffering.
Who can forget Jim Murphy’s genuine shock as he faced a television camera shortly after being an eyewitness to the terrible tragedy at the Clutha bar in Glasgow when a police helicopter crashed onto the roof of the packed pub? This, surely, is a caring man.
All of which points to Murphy being the answer to Labour’s prayers in Scotland: a man who can connect with voters and is in tune with the hopes and aspirations of the people. Of course, after the abrasive and inept Johann Lamont, almost anyone would be an improvement.
There is only one problem with the image being portrayed by Jim Murphy as he seeks the leadership of the Scottish sub-section of the British Labour Party – it does not reflect the real man and his beliefs.
Murphy’s leadership campaign tells us he is the son of a working class Glasgow family, so poor the infant Jim had to sleep in a drawer. That, apparently, is true: but so is the fact that the Murphy family emigrated to apartheid South Africa, where the young Jim attended a whites-only school. The future politician returned to Scotland when he was 18 to avoid doing compulsory national service in the South African army.
Back in Scotland the young Jim attended university and got heavily involved in student politics, eventually being elected President of the Scottish National Union of Students, which led to him taking on the same role UK-wide. During Murphy’s tenure in office, the National Union of Students (NUS) dropped its opposition to the abolition of student grants: this was in line with Labour Party policy but against the agreed position of delegates at the NUS conference. At the time, then Labour MP Ken Livingstone tabled a parliamentary motion criticising the NUS decision and describing Jim Murphy as “intolerant and dictatorial”.
So involved in Labour and student politics had Murphy become, he did not complete his degree and dropped-out of university. Immediately, he was offered the position of Special Projects Officer with the Labour Party in Scotland.
Jim Murphy wants us to believe he is a working class man who understands the suffering of ordinary Scots, those unemployed and in-work who are being hit hardest by austerity measures imposed by the right-wing Tory-Lib Dem Government at Westminster. In reality, Murphy is cut from the same right-wing cloth as the Tories and has never had a real job in his life.
Selected to fight the then Tory-held seat of Eastwood, Jim Murphy was elected as part of the Tony Blair-inspired New Labour landslide of 1997, and quickly settled into life at Westminster as a loyal Blairite.
As Labour abandoned any pretence of being a socialist or even just centre-left party, Murphy was comfortable with the way New Labour embraced market capitalism and distanced itself from the founding principle of the labour movement, which had been to give a parliamentary voice to the working class. As a Blairite, Jim Murphy was a committed part of the New Labour project, summed-up at the time by Blair confidante Peter Mandelson as Labour now being “extremely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich”.
As a loyal New Labour MP, Murphy supported welfare reform that began the process of hammering the poor – including the introduction of the Bedroom Tax to the private rented sector – and which have formed the bedrock of current Tory-Lib Dem austerity policies.
Jim Murphy also supported British involvement in the 2003 illegal invasion of Iraq. Remember the shocked man who stared into a television camera after seeing for himself the horrific and deadly impact of a helicopter crashing into the Clutha bar? This is the same man who readily supported the unleashing of ‘shock and awe’ against the civilian population of Baghdad, and who, as Shadow Defence Secretary, had Labour been in power would have been in charge of Britain’s nuclear arsenal, a first-strike system of mass destruction capable of wiping-out the human race several times over.
As a right-wing Labour MP, Murphy is a staunch supporter of Israel, which continues to blockade the civilian population of Gaza and has launched ferocious military attacks against densely-populated residential areas of Palestine. In 2012 the Jewish Chronicle newspaper reported, “Mr Murphy, a former chair of Labour Friends of Israel...has long nailed his colours to the mast,” quoting Murphy as saying that any recognition of Palestinian suffering by some Labour politicians “doesn't mean that Labour is anything other than a staunch supporter of the state of Israel”.
As he attempts to become leader of Labour’s Scottish sub-section, Jim Murphy’s campaign recognises it must distance itself from his long-standing position as a right-wing Blairite within the party. Scotland has long rejected the Tories and part of the current Labour collapse stems from the party’s re-branding as a Tory clone in England. Scots recently saw Labour politicians and activists campaigning shoulder-to-shoulder with the Tories in opposition to Scotland re-establishing itself as a normal independent nation. Very prominent in the Tory-backed and funded Better Together campaign was Jim Murphy.
Last month (October 2014), the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph reported, “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”. The Telegraph article noted that in an interview with the paper, Murphy railed against the “I don’t need to get out of bed, and the world owes me a living” attitude apparently expressed by some of the country’s unemployed. According to the newspaper, “It is this kind of robust analysis that makes many on the Labour right wonder if Murphy is their last best hope.”
So, the frontrunner to be the next leader of the Scottish sub-section of the British Labour Party is a man educated in a whites-only school under an apartheid regime, who dodged South African national service by returning to Scotland; a man who neglected his state-funded studies to such an extent he dropped-out of university, then, as President of the National Union of Students, ignored the view of students and backed scrapping the system of grants that funded higher education studies (a move that has brought about the current situation where students have to fund their studies by taking-out loans and where English universities now charge annual tuition fees of up to £9,000).
With Murphy at the helm, Labour in Scotland would be led by a man who has never had a real job; who, rightly, is shocked by the horrific scenes resulting from a helicopter crash in Glasgow but who voted to bomb thousands of Iraqi men, women and children – and who could have been in charge of the UK’s nuclear weapons of mass destruction; a man who has unflinchingly supported the state of Israel, a country that occupies Palestinian land and regularly launches searing missile attacks against civilians in Gaza.
With Jim Murphy as leader, the ‘Scottish’ Labour Party, which has lost thousands of voters and members because it is now seen as a right-wing clone of the Tories, would be fronted by the man seen as the “last best hope” of those Blairites who are responsible for moving the party to the right and embracing Tory policies.
The SNP, already seeing membership soar beyond 80,000 since the Independence Referendum, must be praying for a Labour Party in Scotland led by Jim Murphy.