Jim Murphy Signs Off - For Now
PLMR's MD Kevin Craig on Jim Murphy's parting speech and legacy in Scottish politics
And so to the Policy Exchange in Westminster on a balmy June lunchtime, where a packed room sees Jim Murphy give what he called his “valedictory address” in public life as he formally leaves politics after 18 years as an MP in Scotland, including time as a Government Minister, Cabinet Member and lately Leader of the Scottish Labour Party – leading the Party during its recent catastrophic defeat in Scotland.
Jim Murphy shared his passionate views on the challenges for the Labour Party in Scotland and also gave his take on what he wants from the next Labour leader nationally – his choice for which he could not be drawn upon other than to say he was looking for the candidate that could be elected as Prime Minister. Jim said that he would, like normal Labour Party Members wait until the end of the campaign to decide upon his choice – other than confirming it wouldn’t be Jeremy Corbyn. Nor will Jim Murphy be sending Diane Abbott any Christmas cards.
It was a self-deprecating and moving speech. Jim Murphy does believe, which I agree with, that for the Scottish Electorate, nationalism trumped class in the recent General Election. He also seems to hold a clear view that that will not always hold true, and also that a broadly more centrist approach is going to be required again if the Labour Party is going to regain power nationally. Many think that is what England needs but can’t reconcile that to where Scotland currently seems to be– but he does know Scotland better than many.
He talked about attracting back the “many good folk that voted Tory on May 7th”. He spoke about the need to attract those who want a better life for themselves and their families but also care about wider society. He clearly believes that his prescription will allow the Labour Party to win back seats like his old one in East Renfrewshire – actually Scotland’s most prosperous constituency.
For many Labour Party members and activists who do not know Scotland as well as Jim Murphy his prescription today is quite a challenging one to accept because there are many people that I know in the wider Labour movement who feel that one of the challenges in Scotland is that the more ostensibly centre-left offering of the SNP is one that they want the Labour Party to be putting forward. Health and social care, trident, tuition fees and such like. Many people feel that was part of the reason behind Labour’s defeat. Jim Murphy clearly doesn’t see it like that. Many share his view that a move to the Centre is the only way.
Jim Murphy has always been a very unusual politician – his family were not a Labour Party family – they included Communists and members of old Sinn Féin whilst he is adamant that he will remain Labour until the end of his days. Labour made mistakes, he said. He had made mistakes – he confirmed with evident regret – that he spoke to Ed Balls more in the final two months of the General Election campaign then he had in the previous two decades – an obvious reflection on some of the more futile self-harming visceral and intense conflicts that characterised the Blair-Brown years – rightfully now they seem utterly ridiculous given the huge hole in which the Labour Party finds itself.
There was a very good turnout for this address, including a huge selection of national UK and Scottish media. There were many Labour Party friends of Jim Murphy present to support him in this address including Dame Tessa Jowell, Jim Fitzpatrick MP, Ivan Lewis, MP Jon Cruddas MP, John McTiernan and others. I heard several of the bigger national broadcasters lamenting under their breath the leaving from the stage of another heavyweight Labour figure from the political stage with less than complimentary mutterings about the remaining field. But there we are. He lost and he has stood down. He certain showed his class today. He was deeply critical of David Cameron’s actions after the Scottish Independence Referendum and says that it has made it harder for the UK to stay together. Cameron put self-interest before country he said.
Jim Murphy is not a typical MP (or should I say ex-MP). A teetotaller. A vegetarian. A Celtic fan. A Catholic. He takes on fights. He never walked into a safe seat – he won what had always been a Conservative seat and fought hard to keep it for 18 years. He also got his hands very dirty, metaphorically, with the way that he fought for a United Kingdom during the Scottish referendum campaign – a campaign he today openly concedes cost Labour so heavily in Scotland. He was forgiving about Ed Miliband and scathing about those former cheerleaders of Ed Miliband now trying to distance themselves from his time as Leader. It was good to see him lay into intolerance and the street level nationalist bullies who had harassed him so much, and finished powerfully saying that despite the achievements he was proudly part of in his political life including a National Minimum Wage, Equal Marriage, a society more at ease with itself, and peace in Northern Ireland, no politician could feel positive when the poor were still so disadvantaged in terms of life expectancy, chronic ill health, education and opportunity in a Britain today that was socially fairer but fiscally more unjust than when he started off in political life.
Jim Murphy is somebody who has given huge amounts of his life to politics and is still relatively a young man. He leaves the stage full of optimism (publicly at least) for Labour’s fortunes and very clear that in his eyes, the “one more heave”, “lets offer a real Left alternative”, “the voters don’t know what they’re doing strategy they will come round” is not the way forward for the Labour Party and will see the Labour Party defeated again and again. He wants the Blair years treasured more and celebrated whilst not wanting them re-run because times have moved on.
I have no idea if he is right. Many people feel Labour lost for being too Right wing in Scotland and too Left wing in England – a sticky wicket one BBC friend called it to me again today. Many can’t see the way forward – especially with such savvy and different political opponents facing Labour North and South of the Border with Scotland – the Tories, SNP and UKIP. Many don’t understand just how you overturn the huge SNP majorities in one term of office with an offer and a vision that also flies in the English marginals. There were many questions Jim didn’t address today but which are salient to the big picture – the importance of communication skills in a political Leader, the power of the media, the opportunities of proportional representation, the millions still not inspired to vote at all.
But a great speech. And what I do know is this: there are few politicians who have given more to public service, and the Labour Party in Scotland than Jim Murphy has over two decades and many wish him very well in the coming years as he embarks upon the next stage of his working life. I have a feeling that we have not seen the last of him in politics.
Kevin Craig is Managing Director of PLMR, and outside of work a Labour Councillor, former Parliamentary Candidate and was an active supporter of Better Together.