Kitchen-gate

In truth, it wasn’t the magenta bus that bothered me. I might not have chosen to sally forth in an emblazoned, bright pink people carrier, but actually, Labour’s initiative to engage woman-o to woman-o in the general election isn’t the worst idea they’ve ever had. After all, they pinched it from Women for Independence.

Getting out and engaging women in spaces they feel comfortable in is something Women for Indy’s thousands of female supporters did to considerable effect during the referendum campaign. Here in Edinburgh, we did school gates, drop-ins in cafes, at homes, wee socials and my favourite, outside bingo halls (with Yes bingo dabbers, no less) because we went to where women were, rather than expect them to come to us.

My problem with the wheeze was it being styled as the “kitchen table” tour. Why? According to Lucy Powell, one of its shiny, bright young things in its election team, Labour was taking its message [to] women voters because “they wanted to have a conversation about the kitchen table, around the kitchen table” rather than “having an economy that just reaches the boardroom”. Shades of eat your cereal all round.

Suddenly, those shots of Ed and Justine in their kitchen make sense.

Ed and Justine in the “kitchen”

Except as we now know, it wasn’t their kitchen.  It was the second kitchen, the one off the living room where tea and snacks are prepared. But take a close look.  Does this look like any kitchen or even, snack-preparation-area you know?  Where’s the clutter?  The personality?  The photos of family, the letters from school, the fruit bowl?  There’s not even a half-full laundry basket, never mind an actual kitchen table.

As an attempt to portray Ed as just a regular family guy, it fails miserably. He looks like he’d rather be anywhere else. He looks like he never even knew the room existed (as it might not).  And who has two kitchens in their house anyway?

That’ll be a man who lives in a great big pile in a des res part of London, far from where his constituency is, incidentally, in scandal-laden Doncaster (one of the increasing number of longstanding Labour councils up north with serious issues in terms of its track record on protecting children).

I read the big, glossy interview with Ed in that week’s Guardian, where he was shadowed by a reporter around the country.  I read it twice, in fact, keen to glean details that might bring me to like the man.  I left disliking him more than ever.

And the only conclusion I can reach is that the man is a phoney.  A professional politician who has spent all his adult life in the Westminster bubble preparing for power. All that empathising with the audience, using first names?  A longstanding technique which can be learned. It’s well documented that his brother did so. He posited soundbites – I worry about not seeing my kids enough (who were otherwise largely absent from the piece); stamina being a challenge, but with twisted logic, relishing the 16 hour days – and if it was all to make him seem human, well, bits did, but the overall impression was of a team crafting a set piece for the delectation of the intellectual Left. I found it curious that the tour didn’t bother to call in on his constituency: does he go there at all, or is it just a place to weigh the votes?

But I got no sense of a man with a plan, other than to get to Number 10. He may be willing to stand up to vested interests. In fact, I applaud him for doing so, but will he as a Prime Minister un-vest them?  I think not.  The Milibands’ wee turn on the inheritance of the family home might not be tax avoidance on the scale that attracts headlines, but it still smacks of the entitled few entitling themselves in a way the rest of us can’t.

No, Ed Miliband is establishment Labour personified.  And if voters elsewhere aren’t turned off by the prospect of him and his party leading us, then here in Scotland, the electorate is making clear what it thinks.  They are turning away in their droves, because they have a better, more grounded, more real alternative to vote for.

Kitchen-gate speaks to all of this and exposes the “kitchen table” tour in all its condescending gory.  As our own First Minister is demonstrating, women are more than capable of dealing with the economy as an issue at boardroom level.  They are not just concerned with economics as they affect what they put on their kitchen table, but with how the state of our nation’s finances impact on everyone’s prospects, especially future generations.

What these gimmicks suggest is that Labour is the modern day equivalent of the Wizard of Oz.  For sure, there is a man behind the curtain, pulling levers, wowing the headline writers and the news makers – think Jim Murphy here – but take a peek and the charade is exposed.  There is no substance.  No one knows what Labour stands for, as I have written ad nauseum on this blog for years now.

The Labour President of COSLA, Councillor David O’Neill, tries to resurrect Johann Lamont’s “something for nothing” narrative which castigates universalism, only to be slapped down almost before he’s finished his speech by Jim Murphy, who restates Scottish Labour’s recent re-conversion to many of the policies it introduced while in government in the first place.

Rachel Reeves, Labour’s work and pensions spokesperson, gets herself in a total fankle trying to explain what Labour would do about the rise of foodbanks if in power. “Labour are a party of working people, formed by and for working people”. Helpfully, Kate Green MP took to Twitter to interpret her remarks, differently from how John McTernan, now installed in Jim Murphy’s team, did so.

If Labour doesn’t know what it stands for, how can the rest of us?  If Labour doesn’t say what it means clearly, or mean what it say, why should voters believe it and trust it with their votes? Meaningless gestures like “kitchen table” tours and toe-curling photo opps in empty, colourless rooms pretending to be the heart of the home expose all of Labour woes.

Whether it’s a kitchen, dining or coffee table, Labour has nothing to put on it but gloss.

 

 

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Why Jim Murphy is the wrong answer

There’s a reason why folk say that a week is a long time in politics. That’s because it is.

Ten days ago, Labour had a leader and a deputy leader in Scotland. Now it doesn’t. Last Friday, Johann Lamont departed the scene letting off a political stink bomb in the process. The honesty and hurt was visceral. There’s a post I’ll finish drafting now I’ve got rid of the virus (sort of) and the broken laptop is now fixed (hopefully) about her leadership – because there are a few things Labour and others need to be reminded of. That Johann Lamont is essentially a decent person, a hardworking MSP, who only put herself forward for the leadership as a transition candidate anyway.  And was she allowed to do the job that the Labour party in Scotland elected her to do?

Which point was seized upon with rather too much glee by the two former First Ministers, returning to the scene of the crime in order to settle a few scores but also say things about the state of the party which they should have said and done something about a long time ago.

In truth, there’s been a lot of pent up Labour anguish since 2007 and it’s had very little outlet. Thus, Johann’s departure allowed a lot of it to spill out into the open. It’s needed. Just as what is not needed is what is going on now.

Which is the meeja in particular, and presumably also, unseen hands in the machine steering a course for Jim Murphy to assume the leadership mantle. Because Jim Murphy is the wrong answer, frankly.

Why?  Because already he has set out his store as being the man who not just wants to lead his party but to lead “Scottish Labour to victory”. Apparently, the job he is applying for is to become Scotland’s First Minister.  At which point, the Scottish electorate rolls its eyes and prepares to respond to yet another opinion poll telling – TELLING – the Labour party exactly what it thinks of this response by indicating how they are unlikely to ever want to vote Labour EVER AGAIN UNTIL THEY GET IT.

It’s the political equivalent of the Road Runner cartoon. Guess who’s Wile E Coyote?

I’ve written blogposts like this before. What Labour needs to do to change. What is Labour for (twice).  Why it needs to stop orbiting around the SNP. Why it needs a purpose.  And so has everyone else.

But still they don’t get it. The job I’m applying for is to be First Minister of Scotland? FFS. No, the job you are applying for is to lead your party so that it finds a way to represent the interests of the Scottish people. To address the issues they care about. To find a story that sings, that touches voters in all the right places, so that they believe you can be trusted to go for the country’s messages again. Then, and only then, will they be prepared to audition you for the job of First Minister.  In any event, you’ll need to find yourself a winnable seat in order to do that.

And here’s the thing. Despite Jim Murphy’s stall being set out as the front runner for this non-vacancy, not only does he not have a seat for that, there’s also the small matter of an electoral college to overcome.

David Miliband was the contender to beat once. Jim Murphy and Blair McDougall, who were in Miliband’s campaign team, are better able to relate what happened next.

But then no one was entirely convinced that Johann would become leader either. There’s a sort of inbuilt bias against the idea of a woman becoming leader of anything on her own merits. For there is always a man better placed, equipped and talented to do the job. As Sarah Boyack is finding out.

Apparently, all leaders need to be confident, assertive, strutting peacocks.  Yet, I – and I suspect others do too – like Sarah Boyack’s softer style.  As a Minister, she proved herself – time and again – as a consensus politician, a product of the new politics the Scottish Parliament was supposed to usher in. She, much more than Jim Murphy, occupies the centre ground in Labour, with an instinctive and deeply held belief in social democratic values. And given her role in the internal reform consultation and again on the devolution commission, I wouldn’t be discounting her chances with the membership part of the electoral college. She will be known – personally – by a lot of members.  And that counts. I’d hazard that many of those from the “co-operative” wing of the party might opt for her too.

Jim Murphy might have more MP and MSP nominations than his opponents but it’s a pretty predictable list. Neil Findlay’s is much more interesting in size and make up and while the media have dismissed the idea of Labour opting for a very left leaning leader, I’m not so sure. Folk are desperate. They’ve tried being all things to all people. It’s not worked. And at least with Neil, they’d get a lot of politics and ideas, as well as a rearguard action to stem the flow of members and supporters to the SNP from the “core vote”.

Neil Findlay is also likely to do very well out of the union part of the college.  Which begs the question, where will Jim Murphy’s support actually come from, aside from his cheerleaders in the male dominated political meeja pack?

Apparently, SNP folk are feart of Murphy and that’s why everyone is talking him down. But just because Alex Massie said this doesn’t make it true or right.

I don’t think Nicola Sturgeon has much to fear from facing Jim Murphy every week, partly because there will be little actual facing going on. A mano a mano contest between Murphy and Salmond might have been interesting in a gladiatorial sort of way but I’m fairly certain it won’t be Nicola Sturgeon’s style.

Then there’s the small matter of what Jim Murphy has ever actually done. He went from being a student politician to being a Labour one with no real job or real life experience in between. Any notable achievements while a Minister? I’m toiling. He was always fairly invisible as a Minister, and much more comfortable and articulate in opposition – which is a strength for where Labour is just now. But that also suggests he lacks ideas.  And a plan.  And the ability to lead to achieve things, rather than just be rent a quote kicking at the Tories and the SNP on the telly.

He doesn’t get on with Ed Miliband, which may not matter much, for his days are probably numbered. But if they aren’t and Ed does become Prime Minister, well Scotland might find itself out in the cold. Just as Jim has done personally. And that’s not a good thing, unless Jim Murphy is up for a bit of UDI type of internal politics. Now that would make things interesting.

Nor has he ever really conducted his politics in Scotland. And Scotland’s political culture is different these days. The reason Johann Lamont described the Westminster politicians who have interfered and briefed against her leadership as dinosaurs, is because they are. They lumber about the Scottish stage, treating it as their backyard, yet Labour supporters and voters generally have made clear their views on that. Labour can claim all it likes it won the referendum:  the truth is its failure to hold its core vote nearly resulted in a Yes vote. It’s safe to assume that Westminster Labour politicians making it all about them and talking in tongues didn’t help. And Murphy played a key role in all that.

Ultimately, Scottish voters have become very good at sniffing out ordure.  For all that Jim Murphy may take to the role of Scottish Labour leader on the stage of Scottish politics enthusiastically and commitedly, everyone knows he’s only put himself forward because with Ed Miliband in charge, his chances of securing Ministerial office in a UK Government are not good.  His career at Westminster is finished and Scotland amounts to sloppy seconds.

Scotland’s voters might not like that. They might actually respond better to the bluff honesty of deeply held left wing principles espoused by Neil Findlay or indeed, to the solid centrist social democratic views of Sarah Boyack – both of whom are conviction politicians in quite different ways.

Or maybe people have been waiting all this time for Scottish Labour to get with the Blair project and Jim Murphy will unite prosperous and poor in voting Labour again in Scotland.

Ultimately, Scottish Labour needs someone who can lead their own people by following the Scottish people,  A deft political trick which the SNP appears to have mastered and which Labour has forgotten even exists.

You really think this debate is about you, Ed Miliband?

“You’re so vain… you really think this debate is about you…”

Ach, Ed.  So, you’re in Scotland today to “save the Union” and apparently to talk about social justice and er, that all amounts to telling us Scots not to vote Yes but to vote No because you’re going to win the UK election.

Sorry for rewriting Carly Simon’s classic song (badly) but it just popped into my head while I was listening to you on BBC Radio Scotland this morning.

Your pitch – at this critical juncture in the referendum campaign – is that this is the perfect time for you to persuade us to vote you into Number 10 Downing Street.

If ever anything showed how out of touch Ed Miliband and UK and Scottish Labour are in this campaign, it is this tactical error.

Because this debate isn’t about Ed Miliband, or even Alex Salmond.  It’s not about the SNP, Labour or even the Tories.

It’s about us.  All of the people who live and work here in Scotland.  It’s about us and our families and friends and neighbours.   It’s about our communities and our country and our relationship with ourselves and everyone else on these islands.

And most importantly of all, it’s about our future.  And that of our children.  And our grandchildren.  And the generations to come.

It’s most definitely not about the ambition of one man to lead his party into Westminster government.

Looking back over this long, hot summer, I think I can recall a handful of folk asking me what happens about the UK election in 2015 if we vote yes.  The honest answer?  I don’t know.  Whether or not we’d participate is something to be sorted out post-Yes.

But I cannot recall a single person telling me they were voting No because they wanted to take a chance on voting in a UK Labour government in 2015.

Or that they were voting No because they wanted Ed Miliband to be Prime Minister.  Or that they’d like that man increasingly on the telly (Jim Murphy) to keep his job.

In fact, folk are actually quite attracted by the fact that a Yes vote would release £50 million extra for Scotland to spend on its priorities rather than on its share of Westminster costs.  59 MPs or over 3000 childcare workers?  Hmmm.

This is what happens when we let politicians into our debate and onto our airwaves:  they make it all about them and their parties.  How typically arrogant of politicians to waltz in and make it all about them.

I’m not sure Miliband making it all about him and his party will work.  In the last week, the debate has moved on considerably. Scotland is now focused on this decision being about us, which is as it should be.  Clearly, for some the issue of always getting the governments we vote for is an attractive one, but it’s one of many multi-layered issues for voters in this referendum.

In any event, Ed Miliband is mistaking formerly Labour heartlands for er, Labour heartlands. These constituencies have turned their backs on the Labour party in successive Scottish elections. They might have voted for Labour in 2010 but they are no longer Labour voters. They’re floating voters who will do what they think is in their family’s and community’s best interests in any future election.

And they get that the referendum is an altogether different premise.

Moreover, they’re no daft, these voters.  They’re not overly impressed with the pale pink version of the once red rose which passes for Labour these days.  They know that a UK Labour government won’t be that much different from the Tory lot – especially on tax and spend issues, committed as they already are to the Conservatives’ spending plans and austerity cuts.

Apparently, though, we’re to choose our future based on same vague promise of change.  “A no vote is not a vote for no change” must be one of the most torturous sentences Ed Miliband has ever uttered.  Why can’t he just say that “a No vote is a vote for change”? Because he would have to spell out what that change might be and beyond the paltry offering of the Work Programme, housing benefit and some income tax powers being devolved, he has nothing else to offer.

His cupboard is bare.

So his speech on social justice today will focus on saying a lot about nothing very much at all.

But with this key ask.  Don’t vote in the referendum in two weeks’ time based on what is best for you, your family, your community or your country.  Vote to enable me to move into Number 10. Vote to keep me and my Labour pals in jobs.  Make it about us and not about you.

There’s a great West coast saying that many folk will be muttering to themselves.  And in case anyone says it to your face, Ed, you might want to get one of your Scottish Labour colleagues to explain it to you:

Do you think we came up the Clyde in a banana boat?