This Time with Feeling
By Mike Small
On the day Labour have confirmation of what we’ve seen over months of polling (that there’s a political meltdown in the making that will make Holyrood 2011 look like a minor setback) we are now witnessing Sept 16th style panic.
With Labour facing the prospects of being reduced to just 10 MPs in Scotland, the People’s Party have dug up some of their own recent policies in a resurrection pact. The Vow, famously ‘delivered’ is to be re-delivered, this time with extra bits. As one jester on twitter noted: “How many times can Scottish Labour say ‘Vote for us and get more powers’? At this rate we’ll be independent by September.”
There’s more. All those powers that Labour just spent months rejecting and ridiculing? They’re back. You may remember we had chance to have full welfare powers in the Smith Commission and Labour turned that down. Now they want Scots to vote them in in order to get them.
It’s more Groucho than Karl from the People’s Party, Jim’s clearly remembering the dictum:
“Those are my principles, and if you don’t like them… well, I have others.”
How Bad Is it?
Professor Richard Rose (from Strathclyde Centre for the Study of Public Policy) was commissioned to carry out a seat by seat analysis of polling across the UK by asset managers Toscafund (read it here).
His report states: “While the breakthrough of the SNP is startling when viewed from Westminster, it is consistent with trends in Scotland over more than a decade. Labour has never won more than one-third of the list vote in elections for the Scottish Parliament since it was established in 1999. After two terms of a Labour-Liberal Democrat coalition, in 2007 the SNP replaced it, forming a minority government with 36 percent of the seats.”
Things could get worse later this week.
Lord Ashcroft is due to release his findings at 11 am this Wednesday and is already trailing it as being a bit special. But who’s to blame? They can’t touch the newly-installed Murphy now careering around in a bizarre double-act with Top Secret Never Before Seen Anywhere Person, Gordon Brown, who appears to have been fully-weaponised.
As Alan Cochrane put it in the Telegraph:
“Gordon Brown is to put himself at the head of a desperate bid to save Labour from general election defeat with an audacious plan to allow Scotland to pay higher pensions and welfare benefits than the rest of Britain. The former Prime Minister will also use a high-profile press conference, organised by the party, to promise that a Labour victory will mean Scotland getting the power to create entirely new benefits that are unavailable south of the Border.”
To be fair to Labour, almost anything is audacious to Alan Cochrane, but the dynamic duo may be more of an Odd Couple as the campaign unfolds. The introvert and bumbling intellectual Brown with the extrovert but unthinking Murphy, with McTernan lurking in the shadows like a Red White and Blue Gollum – ‘We wants it, we needs it. Must have the precious.’
This is a farce of political illegitimacy shocking even by modern standards.
People have got used to the fact that politicians cover up, deny when they get found out, delay when it’s not convenient and seek power through compromise and endless slithering triangulation. But to actually have the gall to u-turn on such specific policies in such a short span of time is an extraordinary act of stupidity. It could only be attempted by a team of people who hold the electorate in contempt and are so blinded by their own right to rule that they must have assumed everything was just going to be as it always had been after the referendum.
It’s a desperate strategy, if you can call it that. It harks back to – and assumes a state of quietism that’s long-gone.
Like Labour like Britain. They could , with the continuity team they have on board from the victorious Better Together campaign patent a new slogan: ‘Better Yesterday’.
All of this was envisaged as early as 2002 by Tom Nairn (Pariah, Verso Books) who wrote:
‘Declining Britain’ had been happening for a century or so; but parody-Britain is a mere twenty-three years old. In that sense it is curiously like an unwilling new nation. Only here, the novel ‘identity’ happens to consist in a ceaseless puppet-show of sere age, ever-unfolding legitimacy and constant evocation of 1940. ‘Our Finest Hour’.
This relentless staring backwards and the pursuit of power for powers sake looks threadbare and contemptible in the light of the last year’s revival. There’s still enough idealism in the air to make Scottish Labour’s latest opportunism look ridiculous. It doesn’t help that the dwindling party is up against a movement. People keep calling the General Election on party terms, but we’re way beyond that.
The problem for Gollum and Co is that this isn’t Labour versus SNP any more it’s (still) about Hope versus Fear.
As Lesley Riddoch writes today:
” … a new party has been formed since the SNP quadrupled in size – and its new face must be more like its new support. It is – roughly a third of all candidates selected so far are relatively youthful women; Natalie McGarry, founder of Women for Independence, will take on Margaret Curran in Glasgow East; Alison Thewliss will challenge Labour’s Anas Sarwar in Glasgow Central; Joanna Cherry QC, a founder of Lawyers for Yes, will contest Edinburgh South West, a seat vacated by Alistair Darling; Margaret Ferrier is standing in Rutherglen; Dr Philippa Whitford in Central Ayrshire; Corri Wilson in Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock; Michelle Thomson in Edinburgh West; Tasmina Ahmed Sheikh in Ochil and South Perthshire; Carol Monaghan in Glasgow North West; and Kirsten Oswald against Jim Murphy (if he decides to stand) in East Renfrewshire.”
The energy of these new voices will be altogether too much of a force for a party in decline desperately re-treading policies to stave off the inevitable.
If the Yes movement was characterised by creativity and intellectual free-thinking, the No campaign was characterised by a crude form of threat / bargaining. The unconscious logic of Parody Labour will have gone something like this: “We offered more powers before and won. Let’s do it again.”
Unfortunately it’s Karl not Groucho that makes most sense here. What was it he said? “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.”