And Alex Massie's devastating analysis in The Spectator - Dinosaur Labour is back!
Saturday, 3 March 2012
Wednesday, 2 November 2011
Labour ducks in a row again, Tom Harris and minimum pricing for alcohol–Bob Doris and Jackie Baillie
Tom Harris MP has yet another outing on television, this time as the first of the three Scottish Labour leadership candidates to be interviewed on Newsnicht.
But before I address the content, let me indulge my pedantry -
Glenn Campbell opens with a phrase and a sentence construction that is all over the media like a rash – the may be … but construction. It seems to open almost every political analysis these days, and if it isn’t opening one, it’s closing one. Glenn’s example is -
“It may have only just begun but already …” What Glenn is referring to is the Labour Leadership contest. There is no may about it it, Glenn, it has already begun.
The word may indicates a possibility that contains alternatives – Prince Charles may become king, but then again, he may not. But this would be wrong – “Elizabeth the Second may be queen but she is an old lady …” There is no may about it, she is the queen.
Tom Harris may become Labour leader, but he may not. The disjunctive coordinating conjunction but is all you need to make your point, Glenn. “It has just begun … but already …” You could have used the admittedly lengthier construction of “Despite the contest having just begun, already one party member ..” or alternatively “Although the contest has just begun, already one party member …”
Remember Dean Martin -
You may be king, you may possess
The world and its gold
But love won’t bring you happiness
When you’re growing old
Dino isn’t addressing a king or a rich man – he’s exploring future alternatives and offering good advice for choosing between them.
THE LABOUR LEADERSHIP CONTEST
Glenn Campbell explores Uncle Tam’s candidacy with him, and attempts to find out what he’s all about, with as little success as previous interviewers. (Isabel Fraser successfully exposed the vacuum at the heart of all of the three candidates’ policy thinking, but couldn’t fill it.)
In his intro, Glenn signals the blandness of, and lack of differentiation between the candidates. He picks up with a previous comment from Tom Harris in the Isabel Fraser group interview that Labour could cease to become relevant in the next few years. (It has in fact been irrelevant for decades – it just took the Scottish voters a long time to notice it.). Uncle Tam replied lugubriously that it couldn’t be any more serious, in fact, he sees this internal party election as a watershed event. He’s probably right, but of course his remarks serve to talk up the importance of his involvement in this historical moment – as an essentially marginal Labour figure, threatened, as all Scottish Labour MPs are by independence, he’s hoping for a political lifeboat to carry him to either a fully independent or a still devolved Holyrood, and despite unionist protestations, either outcome would suit him nicely.
He is throughout refreshingly and brutally frank about the failings of Scottish Labour and the campaign – he can afford to be because he was not part of it, whereas his two opponents were, something that hangs uneasily in the air of cosy consensus they try to generate.
“What are the right decisions – what is the key to the party’s survival?” asks Glenn. Policy and structure “doesn’t really matter at the moment” replies Tom – “We’re deciding who is going to lead the Scottish Party …” And Tam is not interested in being the Leader of the Scottish Labour Party – he wants to be First Minister, and he sees this as the key perception that voters should have of the candidates – who can stand up to Alex Salmond?
“What makes you different and better than the others in this contest?” If Glenn had put that question to an American candidate in a leadership contest, they would have seized the opportunity to talk policy and character differentiation with both hands. But Tom retreats into coy blandness - he modestly confesses to good communication skills and the ability to sell a vision of Scotland to voters – he can “portray a positive vision for Scotland within the United Kingdom”.
All this PR, spin doctor, media man stuff reminds me of marketing men addressing harassed front end sale people in commercial organisations, to be met with cries of “Never mind the gloss and spin, the product is crap – what are you going to do about that?” There is a scene in the film version of Barbarians at the Gate, (see final YouTube clip) the story of the RJR Nabisco takeover in the 1980s, when James Garner discovers that the new product, a cigarette that is going to save the company, tastes of shit. Cognitive dissonance is literally in the air as the senior executives try to convince themselves that everything is OK with the brand …
What’s Tom’s big idea? It appears to be to abandon the unemployed and those on benefit, and presumably the poor, the disabled and all the other inconvenient parts of society that demand our compassion and our help, and focus on people in jobs, shoving them up the social housing list. All of this will be achievable as part of the union with a strong devolved Parliament – and of course the inevitable concomitants of that – war as the operating principle of the state, nuclear weapons and WMDs based in Scotland, lunatic foreign entanglements, and power, wealth and influence – and Scottish resources and revenues - drained to the South East of England.
But Uncle Tam will still be in a job – the Uncle Tams of this world always are …
The three ducks were all in a row again in STV’s new Scotland Tonight programme, which I was unkind about on its first outing, but which has improved in leaps and bounds since. There was little that was new – more vacuity, more equivocation, more self-justification. But the battle lines are clearly drawn as follows -
TOM HARRIS: You two ****** it up in the last Parliament and the election campaign …
JOHANN LAMONT/KEN MACINTOSH: Naw, we didnae – there wis just a perception that we ****** it up …
MINIMUM PRICING FOR ALCOHOL – JACKIE BAILLIE AND BOB DORIS
We had what may now become a recurrent media phenomenon last night – the same topic with the same spokespersons running twice – once on Scotland Tonight and once on Newsnicht. It must be something to do with neutrinos and the speed of light. But if you had only watched the first programme, Scotland Tonight, feeling that the second, Newsnicht, was redundant, you would have missed important differences …
Bob Doris gave his impression of a killer shark, eyes glittering coldly, homing in on his prey. Jackie Baillie gave a formidable impression of his prey, waiting pluckily but apprehensively to be devoured. Jackie, of course, has no defence – her position is deeply flawed, intellectually, arithmetically and morally.
But Newsnight Scotland highlighted two key points missed by Scotland Tonight – one, that supermarkets won’t experience a windfall by minimum pricing if it actually works, since sales will fall. (Exactly how this will translate in money will already be the subject of frantic analysis by the supermarket bean counters – the media will take a long time to get round to it.) Two - the 45p figure is out of date and will be revisited on the re-run of the model, as Nicola Sturgeon has been explaining all over the media.
And of course, Labour and Jackie Baillie’s argument over supermarkets profiting is fatally compromised by their opposition to the Tesco Tax. The Scottish voters can smell hypocrisy a mile off, and Labour, the Tories and the LibDems reek of it.
Tuesday, 13 September 2011
Last night’s Newsnight Scotland, with Raymond Buchanan in the Grand Inquisitor’s chair and Sarah Boyack and Jackson Carlaw in the firing line came pretty close to my idea of what this vital Scottish programme should be, and can be.
It had a theme, and questions that really mattered to Scotland, and it addressed them vigorously and forensically. The state of the main (sorry Greens!) opposition parties should concern any democrat, because a strong and representative voice for the core values of their supporters is a vital component of the necessary consensus that underpins any democracy, as is the conviction that, even when a voter’s chosen party does not form the government, that they can exert a proper influence over its policies and its programme. The checks and balances of democracy cannot function without this, and the fact that my party, the SNP, is now dominant in the Scottish Parliament, and that I was ecstatic about their decisive victory, does not lessen my concern over the parlous state of the opposition parties.
The LibDems have their new leader, Willie Rennie, but, to what I hope is their shame, the other two main opposition parties do not. The fact that they do not, almost five months after the election, and are unlikely to have until at least six months after the election, is a disgrace, but accurately reflects the confusion and lack of focus of their election campaigns. The Tories, thanks to the political courage of Murdo Fraser, at least have the issues in focus, and face a clear and unambiguous choice between old Toryism, epitomised by Michael Forsyth, and a new, revitalised centre right party, with two candidates for the old Tory values – Ruth Davidson and Jackson Carlaw - and one for the new centre right, Murdo Fraser.
The Tories are focusing on what they believe in, something they are very clear about, and the political processes are simply a vital tool to pursue those values. Most of their values, leaving aside the common shared values that cross all civilised political boundaries, are anathema to me, but they and their supporters have a right to hold them. The Tories know what they are for – they currently disagree about the political identity and structure necessary to achieve their goals.
Labour, in contrast, have no idea what they are for anymore, having long since degenerated into a mindless power seeking machine, a blind, destructive, venal and significantly corrupt juggernaut created by Blair, Brown and Mandelson that spectacularly ran off the rails, having destroyed the British economy and devastated two countries, Iraq and Afghanistan in the process. They have succeeded in enriching their leaders and some of their cabinet ministers through the juggernaut of blood and death they unleashed, while impoverishing the country.
All three of the opposition parties (sorry again, Greens) are significantly defined by their opposition to the independence of the Scottish people, a blind opposition called Unionism. At least the LibDems and the Tories have other things they believe in – Labour has nothing left except its Unionism. It has become the thing it always falsely accused the SNP of being – a one-issue party. It is neither left nor right, neither centre left nor centre right: it floats aimlessly around the political compass, adrift – sans values, sans principles, sans everything …
Sunday, 8 May 2011
Professor Tom Devine advocates soul searching and radical reappraisal for Scottish Labour, and talks of the intellectual chasm.
All of this escapes Ken Macintosh, Labour smoothie, touted as replacement for Iain Gray. "Your front bench team were constantly outclassed by the SNP team ..." ISABEL FRASER
KEN MACINTOSH: "... over the last four years...in most of the Holyrood debates, the intellectual argument was nearly always won by Labour."
Ken wonders how many members of the public "actually watched" these debates. Well, I watched all of them, Ken (and have most of them on disk) but I wonder if you "actually watched" them, or if you were present, actually listened to them?
Ken exemplifies the blinkered, amnesiac denial of reality by the Labour Party, especially in Scotland. They cannot confront the chasm (two chasms, in fact - one intellectual, the other moral) so they dive in head first, hoping to learn to fly on the way down.
Ken, your mackintosh is not just keeping the rain out, it is also excluding reality. The eponymous inventor of rubber-proofing of cloth and of the mackintosh (born and brought up near my birthplace in Dennistoun) died of suffocation in his own coat on a hot day.
If the Scottish Labour Party elects you as its next leader, it is liable to do the same ...