Red White and Blue Labour
It’s great news that Labour have discovered social media, and devolution. Whatever next, are these guys playing Sigue Sigue Sputnik on their Walkmans? Though if this Daily Record editorial is anything to go by I’m not sure if Kirk Torrance (@KirkJTorrance) and Stephen Noon (@stephennoon) will be quakeing in their boots:
“Local party branches should be geared towards the independence referendum and Holyrood election – as even Westminster MP Murphy now recognises. It’s also high time to address some of Labour’s glaring failures of recent years. Some – like the need to use social media for campaigning – are easy to fix. Even cash-strapped Scottish Labour can afford a smartphone.” Quite.
The use of @LABOURSCOTLAND may have wound Scottish Labour up at the last election but the lack of gumption was there for all to see. A declaration of faith in social media without a deeper understanding of purpose will be fruitless for the disconsolate People’s Party. If you believe in Twitter, but don’t believe in Scotland, nobody’s going to listen.
Writing on, LabourHame, Ann McKechin, Shadow Scottish Secretary (so we’re told) said: “In 1999, we devolved power in our country and set in place a Scottish parliament with massive power and massive potential. But we forgot to devolve our party.”
That was indeed forgetful.
Each of the three candidates suggested so far, has a fateful achilles heel. Tom Harris, MP for Glasgow South and ‘one of the Scottish party’s most active backbenchers’; Johann Lamont, an MSP, former justice minister and current deputy leader at Holyrood; and Ken Macintosh, a former EBC producer and Holyrood education spokesman.
Harris is hopelessly wedded to the party’s right and no amount of Tweeting about Doctor Who will really alter that when he actually comes under a modicum of media scrutiny out of the Westminster / new media bubble. Johann Lamont is praised for having ‘trade union’ support yet suffers a media style that makes Iain Gray look talismanic. Ken Macintosh is competent but has little to say and so shallow a hinterland he will be dispatched however much spin and resurrection is contrived. What does it tell us that he’s been an MSP since 1999 but has held no ministerial post? These candidates, plus massive internal ructions and dispute will mean little change of success for Labour in Scotland without a more deep-rooted awakening of self-confidence and purpose. It’s precisely the sort of re-awakening they fear among the populace, and herein lies the trouble. All of the language and logic they are using will conspire to contradict them.
But having wrapped themselves in the shroud of the Union Jack it’s going to be very difficult for Labour to resurrect it’s Scottish credibility. When asked what his favourite footballing moment was in 2006 Gordon Brown declared it to be, not an obscure but homely Raith Rovers classic, or (predictable but undeniably safe) Archie Gemmill, or perhaps McFadden in Paris – but this.
Football matters less than the thousands killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. You can hear Tony Blair (presumably fresh from great success as Peace Maker in the Middle East) spluttering excuses about civilian death count here. But the memory of Gordon’s golden footballing moment is a problem for Labour. Having strived to resuscitate a dying sense of Britishness how can Scottish Labour now contrive to reappear all Saltire-tastic imbued with new found confidence for a project (devolution) which few of their senior figures have little taste for?
As Tom Nairn put it: “Brown was not of course elected, parachuted from On High, or installed by an indignant mob: over many years he materialized in fits and starts, glimpsed intermittently like a ghost from times past, brooding but saying almost nothing. Then suddenly the spirit was there, seated all too comfortably in the Anglo-Brit living room, account-books and Britannic sermons to hand. The armchair’s previous occupant had left for Jerusalem. Such is death in life.”
Just as Brown materialised in fits and starts out of the glaur, Scottish Labour seems to be appearing like some sort of political miasma drifting forth but without any real substance. Gray announced he would resign immediately after the SNP won its overall majority at Holyrood in May, but the new Labour leader will not be in place until 17 December. If Brown was the Undead of British Zombie politics Scottish Labour are the Unborn.
Even the staunchly unionist Ian Jack in the Guardian struggles to find inspiration: ‘Meanwhile, the arguments for unionism have declined to a bromide (“We are stronger together,” as Alistair Darling said this week)”. As Labour in Scotland struggle with a Groundhog Day of recurring re-launch another poll indicates that people in Scotland are coming to accept independence as inevitable.
The argument that the Labour Party had a wellspring of fresh thinking was espoused by those circling around the (supposedly) communitarian agenda of ‘Blue Labour’ thinker Maurice Glasman. His one-man-think-tank seemed to shudder to a halt last month when Labour MP Jon Cruddas and Middlesex University academic Jonathan Rutherford both informed Lord Glasman they no longer wish to be associated with the project following an interview given by the controversial peer in which he expressed a belief that immigration to the UK should be completely halted.
Asked by the Daily Telegraph’s Mary Riddell whether he would support a total ban on immigration, even if just for a temporary period, Lord Glasman replied, “Yes. We have to draw the line.”
In response to a further question on whether he supported Welfare Secretary Iain Duncan-Smith’s call for British jobs for British workers, he responded, “Completely.”
The Telegraph profile was the latest in a series of increasingly eccentric interviews and public appearances given by the Labour Peer, in which he has attacked David Miliband, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Neil Kinnock, and claimed his agenda is influenced by Aristotle, Miles Davis, Aldo Moro, Lionel Messi and the Pope.
The project seems to have come unstuck as it veered towards a regressive agenda earlier, arguing for Labour to adopt a programme of conservative values centred on “flag, faith and family”. Indeed Glasman’s colleague Jonathan Rutherford talks of the need for ‘Individual self control, hard work and willingness to delay or forego reward and gratification provided social glue and the purposefulness of a national, imperial destiny!’ See Soundings.
The closure of the Blue Labour project has been accused by some of being anti-intellectualism, it’s not it’s anti-incoherence. But Glasman’s analysis in areas beyond immigration had some limited merit. In describing the inadequacy of the Labour leadership battle he wrote:
“There has been no account of how Labour failed to realise Tony Blair’s promises of stakeholding, democratic decentralisation and solidarity – all lost in managerialism, marketing and militarism. No reckoning, either, with the stale, European, social democracy that Gordon Brown inhabited, sucking the life out of the Labour tradition.”
There’s little to disagree with there, and he was correct to point out that:
“The Blair/Brown psychodrama was the environment within which both David Miliband and Ed Miliband developed as political leaders. Leadership of the “progressive” left is the mantle they both claim from their father, Ralph, a Marxist academic. Neither has succeeded, so far, in articulating a Labour position that could transform the party and the country. What began as a family argument within the Labour Party has turned into a political argument in one particular family.”
This inability of Labour to move beyond ‘managerialism, marketing and militarism’ is the twin catastrophe for Scottish Labour wedded to a failed constitutional structure and increasingly defeding the indefensible elite crumbling structures.
A recent glossy feature had Glasman ‘the iconoclast’ interviewed outside the House of Lords, the institution the Labour Party failed to reform for ten long years despite manifesto commitment, whopping majority and acres of popular support. Here, smoking roll-ups on the balcony (or so the feature told us), Labour’s one-man thinker reeled off hours of ideas trailing off down the Thames. The problem was not to engage the brain but to do so in isolation.
Like most think-tankery Glasman was sent out into the wilderness and to come back with an idea from a party that didn’t have one. Such is the loss and disorientation of Labour and the origin of it’s demise, rootless, feckless and in many senses utterly useless.
Black and Blue Labour
It’s hard to know why Labour are so quiet about the deluge of allegations about misconduct, brutality and assault that British military are awash with. Surely, Ed Miliband would want to use this opportunity to emphasise the clean break he’s made with the Blair regime, how he’s shed the whole Iraq fiasco and can move on?
Why so coy?
Obviously it would upset Scottish Labour Leader candidate Tom Harris, a well known Iraq cheerleader, but surely that’s not the reason? Writing this time last year Ian Cobain and Fariha Karim exposed that:
“David Miliband gave MI6 the green light to proceed with intelligence-gathering operations in countries where there was a possible risk of terrorism suspects being tortured. During the three years Miliband served as foreign secretary, MI6 always consulted him personally before embarking on what a source described as “any particularly difficult” attempts to gain information from a detainee held by a country with a poor human rights record.
While Miliband blocked some operations, he is known to have given permission for others to proceed. Officers from MI5 are understood to have sought similar permission from a series of home secretaries in recent years.”
This is worth recalling now that the horrific injuries and buses to Baha Mousa and countless others have been brought into the light. Never has the phrase ‘not in my name’ been more worth repeating. Séamas Ó Sionnaigh outlines the clear parallels drawing on Robert Fisk in the Independent here (‘From Ireland to Iraq Same Army Same Abusers‘).
There’s a reason Ed Miliband doesn’t want to go over the ground of British Army atrocities. His leader and mentor Blair created the horrific situation and his brother was in charge of managing it. You’ll recall that as foreign secretary, Miliband fought an unsuccessful legal battle to prevent the public seeing part of a court judgment that showed MI5 was aware Binyam Mohamed was being tortured in Pakistan before one of its officers was sent to interrogate him. He also resisted calls for the publication of the secret interrogation policy governing MI5 and MI6 officers, on the grounds that to do so would “give succour to our enemies”. Since then he has been sensitive to questions about the role he played in authorising counter-terrorism operations.
From social media, to party structures to think-tanks and new thinking – all of this is welcome from Labour (red white or blue) but all is about form not content. In all of the procrastination and brow-beating not a single critical word has been raised about the fundamentals of Blair-Brownite orthodoxy or constitutional issues, this despite significant numbers of Scottish Labour being pro-independence, the vast majority being pro-significant new powers to Edinburgh and (I’d wager) the bulk of the party wishing a clean break from the failed Blairite project.
Where are they?