Let’s get something out of the way first. For the Labour party in Scotland to announce that their fundamental principle, is now “Scotland First” is as much as of an insult to the Labour Movement as it is to the intelligence of the electorate. It reeks of a Nationalism red in Tooth and Claw that the SNP would never dream of. To announce that the new Clause IV is a promise to stick it to the English whenever possible and foment the kind of posturing phony war we’ve seen in the last week is not only an act of cynical gesture politics, it reveals a deep, underlying contempt for the very voters the strategy is designed to attract.
“Glasgow Man”, whose votes Labour need to save those seats in the West of Scot;and, their demographics people seem to have told them, is an ugly souled stupid bigot, who can be conned by a few well placed and consequence free press releases (that will get Boris Johnson and Dianne Abbot into an equally stage managed lather) into believing that a party whose political machinery is more dependent on the unitary British State than even the Tories, is now a vehicle for the anti-English sentiment that they assume is the real basis of support for the SNP.
Yes Voters, according to this way of looking at things, are nasty, old school racists whose talk of “a fairer society” is pious bullshit. The way to get their votes…or enough of their votes to save Labour’s electoral property in the West of Scotland, is not to replace Clause IV with say…Clause IV…(another piece of pious bullshit in the Blairite estimation) but with a pledge to out-Jock the Jocks.
Now, this strategy, cooked up by Jim Murphy and John McTernan, has of course been dismissed as empty posturing by the “real” nationalists. What is important though, I think, to bear in mind, is that this dismissal is as much in the McTernan playbook as all those column inches of guff and fomented resentment that got lost in the headlines from Paris last week. These people are media managers of considerable pedigree and experience. One shouldn’t under-estimate them.
But calling it “Murphy’s Law”? What can go Wrong Will Go Wrong? Surely that’s a gaffe…evidence of incompetence?
Well, maybe…but phrased slightly differently, Murphy’s Law can actually act as a pretty formidable philosophical basis for the pure power politics to which both Murphy and McTernan are devoted.
So, at the usual risk of being pretentious :
Edmund Burke, writing about the French Revolution, came up with the only intellectual argument that Conservatives with a big or little “c” have ever really needed. Roughly paraphrased, it is this : “There is no human situation so bad that well-intentioned intervention cannot make it worse”.
Now, this is quite persuasive, actually. It does seem to be borne out by experience a lot of the time. Particularly in an era where the two words “bank” and “robbery” in the same sentence will conjure up images of computers and chief executives on vast bonuses more readily than images of Bonnie and Clyde. But if you look at that formula, and look at Murphy’s Law, you’ll see they actually can be taken to mean roughly the same thing.
Everything is Hopeless. People are all bastards. Any pretence at public service is a con job. The winner is the biggest and best con man. You can’t fight the rich so you may as well dedicate yourself to making them “comfortable” in the hope they might drop you a scrap off the table.
On that view of the world, it made total sense for Tony Blair and his cohorts and disciples to expropriate the Labour Party as a vehicle for their ambitions. It made perfect sense to drop Clause IV…the promise to secure for workers the benefits of their work by taking the economy into public ownership…After all, workers, like everyone else, were selfish thugs who’d rather join the class system a bit higher up than abolish it. To dump the clause was to jettison an anachronism that no one had taken seriously since the 40s anyway.
Best of all, to abandon the clause was to silence conscience. It was for the Labour Party to join the 21st century, and gave a moral licence to use the electorate merely as a vehicle for getting oneself into power by any means necessary. And if that meant that sometimes there would be some truly egregious trough-snuffling, what could you expect? People are shit and the human race is dead soon anyway. So why not steal everything that’s not nailed down in the meantime?
This world view, this deep pessimism, if you act like you believe it, leads you to view all life as a defensive, atomised struggle to protect you and yours from every other bugger who is just as big a shit as you are. And the reason this has become the unspoken guide to all political and economic activity is that on one level, it’s a persuasive view of the world. There are some mornings when you wake up and that’s exactly the way the world seems.
The resemblance between the Murphy’s Law and Better Together is not just a matter of identical personnel. The hate-stirring, the ugliness fomenting, the cynical “management” of the electors as pawns, the distrust and fear of democracy, the sheer ugliness of the Better Together Campaign and of the new “Murphy’s Law” are founded on exactly the same basis philosophically and spiritually as well as strategically.
Everything is Crap and it can’t get better, Everyone’s a crook so Help Yourself. Bad News is Good, and the more vicious and off-putting political engagement gets the easier it is to engineer the right result.
That’s Murphy’s Law.
And that’s exactly, it seems to me, what the referendum campaign was all about.
Yes against No. Hope against Fear. Humanity against Contempt. The recognition that the British State is so corrupt that only a fundamental change to the way that democracy works on these islands will make it possible to live and hope like a decent human community. That the British State, whose “progressive” forces now seem so wholly in thrall to darkness and despair, cannot be a vehicle for the changes we need. So we may as well try something different. And keep something like Clause IV in mind while we’re doing it.
And that is the way the UK election in May 2015 can continue what really underlay the Battle of 2014 in the hearts and minds of the Scottish people. Not a “Neverendum”, not a re-run of anything. Rather a continuation of the greater, wider, human struggle that doesn’t hate anyone, doesn’t seek to manipulate anyone, but rather chooses to act as if we believed we can do better. That people acting together have before, and still can, make the world a better place. Our job is to find a way to hope that and to make it true.
No matter how we feel when we get up some mornings.