In the first of a number of leadership specials, we look at the reasons why Jim Murphy cannot and should not be Leader of the Scottish Labour Party.
Jim Murphy went to Strathclyde University for nine years, but never actually graduated, instead opting for a succession of sabbatical years to undertake positions in NUS. Jim Murphy’s CV reeks of political careerism. He is an identikit, robo-MP who has taken the meaning of professional politician to a whole new level.
His two year NUS President tenure in 1994-1996 was fraught. He was regarded as a president who was in favour of tuition fees and loans in order to fund higher education. He did not hold the interests of working class and low income students close to his heart. Instead, he sold them out down the river by actively supporting Labour’s plans to replace student grants with tuition fees and loans in exchange for a chance to stand as a candidate in East Renfrewshire. Murphy’s style during this time was dictatorial and intimidating. Many members of the NUS executive at this time were suspended because they supported the Campaign for Free Education, Alex Salmond lodged a motion in parliament, condemning Murphy for this.
Just a year after his tenure ended, Murphy won in the Eastwood (now East Renfrewshire) constituency in the 1997 General Election which was startling, because Eastwood had always been a safe Tory seat. Perhaps this says more about Murphy’s politics than it does about a radical shift in ideas in East Renfrewshire.
Jim Murphy is not the best leader for the Scottish Labour Party. Firstly, he has proven himself to be Blair’s protégé, breezing his way through the party ranks to become Secretary of State for Scotland in 2010 devoid of party support. The Scottish Labour Party, has, for the most part, rejected Tony Blair and his Third Way ideology.
It is not wise to have an MP as leader at a time when UK Labour has been criticised for seeing the Scottish Labour Party as simply a branch of the Labour Party. It needs autonomy and it’s own distinct image. What it does not need, is a dictatorial, professional politician being sent to keep an eye on it, which is very much what Murphy’s leadership bid feels like.
Murphy has never been a great fan of Scottish devolution. Despite being a member of the government who delivered it, Murphy was absent for nine out of thirteen crucial votes on further devolution to Scotland in 2011. If Murphy, potentially, wants to be First Minister of Scotland one day, then how do we trust him to negotiate more powers and devolution for Scotland when he doesn’t particularly care about “the settled will of the Scottish people”.
Where much of the Scottish Labour Party is against renewing trident and are against nuclear weapons, Murphy voted vehemently in favour of Trident renewal. Where much of the Scottish Labour Party were against the Iraq war, Jim Murphy voted vehemently in favour and, where most of the Scottish Labour Party believe in having no university tuition fees, Jim Murphy vehemently voted in favour for them.
Like many workers, the remuneration I receive from my job is expected to get me to and from work and cover my living expenses for the month. Many of us aren’t fortunate enough to be able to claim over £1 million in expenses since 2001. Murphy bought himself a £5000 bathroom on the taxpayer. He bought a £250 television, on the taxpayer and claims £20,000 of rent expenses, even after renting out his London property.
Throughout his political career, Murphy has been completely devoid of his own independent ideas. He hasn’t provided the intellectual rigour needed to completely transform the Scottish Labour Party. What he does, instead, is support policies that make him electorally popular. After all, he represents a traditionally Conservative area where they probably wouldn’t take issue with university tuition fees or bombing people in Iraq.
Murphy is a divisive figure in the Scottish Labour Party. If he were to stand as leader, he would need to stand down as an MP and stand as an MSP in 2016. Who would he replace? Rumours have been circulating that John Pentland, MSP for Motherwell and Wishaw could be asked, or indeed, persuaded to stand down. But being on the left of centre, would John Pentland easily stand aside for Jim Murphy? There have also been rumours of Hugh Henry retiring in 2016- Jim Murphy could easily swoop in and stand for the Renfrewshire South seat. It is no secret that he has many supporters in the Renfrewshire South constituency. It also encompasses some of the area of his Westminster constituency gains it’s core votes. But, perhaps the most interesting rumour of all was in today’s Herald, that suggested Eastwood MSP Ken Macintosh may be asked to stand aside for Murphy. If Macintosh had to stand aside for Murphy, it would be a great shame. Macintosh is an intelligent and capable MSP. It would also fracture the relationship between the two men who have always been close and also share an office.
Murphy cannot and should not be the leader of the Scottish Labour Party. It would, in the words of Malcolm Chisolm, turn a crisis into a catastrophe.