Introduction: Dean Godson (Director, Policy Exchange)
Good afternoon, welcome, it’s a great honour to be able to welcome Jim Murphy here again. We were delighted several years ago, Jim, when you were Shadow Defence Secretary that you chose to launch Labour’s Defence Policy Review here. We’re honoured to welcome you back in the present circumstances, particularly so today. A, obviously it’s particularly apposite because it’s the day that the nominations for the Labour leadership close, B, also because Policy Exchange Today has published a very important study written by our Director of Policy and Strategy James Frayne, with polling from YouGov called Overlooked But Decisive about the critical C1, C2s who’ve acquired the new moniker of just about managing classes.
And this very important study shows exactly where Labour’s weaknesses lie amongst those C1, C2s, just about managing classes in the last general election, the perception of Labour as having been excessively on the side of certain kind of welfare beneficiary and there are a certain kind of public sector trade unionist, but also showing critically that no one party has a permanent lock on the affections of that critical section of the electorate, who amount to nearly 50 per cent of the franchise. So it’s a very, very important situation, it’s a subject to which Jim has given a great deal of thought and to the wider present political correlation of forces, as Leninists would put it. So we’re honoured to welcome you hear, Jim, and look forward to hearing everything you have to say.
Jim Murphy (Leader of the Scottish Labour Party)
Well, thank you very much, Dean, and thank you for that introduction. I don’t know if you ran out of seats or… I should resign more regularly I suspect! And I apologise to you folks in the cheap seats here, you can come and join us if you wish. But this will be, I hope, and it’s certainly my plan for it to be my last speech in this prominent role. And I’ll try and do better than I did in my maiden speech, which Tessa would’ve been there, Hilary Armstrong, Ann Taylor, George Foulkes, you’ll all have been there as Members of Parliament, perhaps others who I don’t recognise. Jim Fitzpatrick who is on the … and Ivan Lewis, who …I saw you on the tele this morning, Jim, on Sky.
My maiden speech, I remember, and this is a modernisation that successors may wish to reflect on, but I remember on my maiden speech … I don’t drink and had all my family in for, my mum and dad had come from abroad to watch my maiden speech and they were in the public gallery. And as a newbie, unexpected victor, you sit there and you’d bob up and down, and bob up and down. And we’d been for lunch about five hours before, so you bob up and down to try and get called by the … at the time it would’ve been Betty Boothroyd. And I just thought well, bob up and down, at some point I’ll get called.
And then I thought, I need … call of nature, and I won’t speak long enough today that that’s going to happen to you, I promise. But the call of nature, and I thought you know what? I should wait till this Tory MP finishes, because it’s obviously rude to walk out in the middle of a speech. Obviously I learnt very quickly that that’s certainly not bad manners in the House of Commons. But as my predecessor, the person speaking before me making their maiden speech concluded, I got up to go to the call of nature, and Betty Boothroyd said, ‘Mr Murphy,’ and called me to speak. So my first words in the House of Commons, I paused and Betty Boothroyd was like … that wasn’t the done thing, said, ‘Mr Murphy, are you willing?’ And I said, ‘Madam Speaker, I’m willing but I’m not currently able.’ And it was three weeks before I got to make my maiden speech.
And even though this will be a long … this will be hopefully a thoughtful speech, it’ll be much more thoughtful than my third speech in the Commons when I was a backbencher operating in the whip’s command. My only advice to my successor is try your best not to do that, John. But they said … Hilary, you were the Chief Whip, but they said, ‘Make a speech with the Lottery.’ And I thought well, I know a little bit about the National Lottery, it was the National Lottery Reform. I said, ‘I know a little bit about it.’ So I started making my speech and I got to the end of the fifth minute of the six minutes of my knowledge on the National Lottery, and a whip came and sidled up to me and said, ‘keep speaking.’ Because back then in those first few years, in ‘97, ‘98, ‘99 if you ran out of speakers the legislation fell in the House of Commons in my recollection. So they said keep speaking until we tell you to stop.
One hour, forty minutes later I had got my lottery ticket out of my pocket and explained the logic of 17, 18, 27, 28, 30 and 44, and the logic behind each and every number. I won’t do that today either. But look, Dean, it’s really lovely of you and colleagues at Policy Exchange to allow me to be here again. And this is a great place to debate ideas and with Tessa and others here, it’s really important that we do discuss the future. Not my future of course, but the future of the Labour Party and the future of our country. And look, I know it’s a cliché, but the future has to be imagined and debated before it can be built, and the Policy Exchange is a great place to do that.
And the future of my party, despite the blows and despite the enormous setbacks of recent months, I remain an optimist, that’s why I joined the Labour Party. And we can win again, I’m absolutely certain of it, but the only true basis for that is an honest reckoning with our past, not just the immediate past but the recent past as well. Jonathan Freedland wrote recently about the need for those of us in the Labour Party to reckon with our past, and in doing so he quoted William Faulkner, who famously said, ‘The past is never dead, it’s not even past.’
Now, it’s commonplace to say that we must learn from defeat, and of course we must. But equally we must learn from our all too infrequent victories. Only two of the last nine Labour leaders have actually won elections. Two out of nine. Harold Wilson and Tony Blair. And if you exclude Tony Blair, which would appear that I’m one of the far too few in the Labour Party who doesn’t want to do that, it’s almost 50 years since Labour won a big majority.
Now I’ll come back to this later, but first I just want to say a word or two about Scotland. What happened there was a catastrophic defeat. There’s no masking it. It was a defeat however long in the making. Put simply we weren’t good enough in terms of our policy, our personnel or our organisation. The reform package that we passed at the weekend which was accepted by the Scottish Labour Party will go some way to addressing that, although our problems in Scotland are not exclusively organisational, they’re largely political. But the reopening of the selection for candidates for next year’s Scottish elections, the Scottish Parliament’s important; trialling primaries for the selections for the next general election I think is significant; and most importantly giving back to party members that power and breaking the boss politics of some union barons which has so mis-served union members and Labour Party members in Scotland.
Now that’s not the whole story and nowhere near the whole story of our defeat in Scotland, because this year Labour paid the price for doing the right thing last year. We helped win the Independence Referendum, we preserved the solidarity of the United Kingdom, which is the greatest motive for redistribution the people of these islands have ever benefited from. If I had my time again, and none of us do, I would again climb on my two Irn-Bru crates and tour the country and make the case of that sense of social solidarity all over again. And if we’re not careful, another referendum will be upon us as soon as the SNP think that they can get away with it.
So the Scottish Labour Party helped win but we had no plan for after that victory. The SNP did. In a two horse race between yes and no, the SNP came last, but spent the period after the referendum in a perpetual lap of honour in the winner’s enclosure despite having come last. The Tories also had their strategy, but we didn’t. Investigators talk of a golden hour, where a clear head and a well-thought out planning is make or break. David Cameron seized the time and was out the morning after the referendum to make an announcement of English votes for English laws.
I was in the TV studios at two o’clock in the morning on referendum night. I was told by Michael Gove that the Prime Minister would unveil his plans the very next morning. Instead of travelling to Scotland to celebrate that success and thank Scotland for staying part of the United Kingdom, to solidify that relationship, David Cameron for self-interest did the opposite. And what was his aim? It was self-preservation, yes, of course, but it was to create a grievance, to engender a sense of English nationalism. Of course he failed initially, but then he succeeded well beyond his wildest ambitions.
The SNP seized on Cameron’s actions as further proof of bad faith of Westminster and used it really successfully to bind the yes voting coalition back together. The full force of that wasn’t felt until the short campaign, but an infernal machine had been created in which the threat of the SNP holding the balance of power at Westminster fueled an election backlash which in turn added to some non-nationalist Scots, who last year had voted no in the referendum, went out and voted for the SNP last month.
And that meant by the time the election came, when I was taking part in those TV debates, I felt as though I as campaigning against this pseudo-religious rock concert where truth didn’t matter. The election was, in my view, in no small part, a tail of two competing nationalisms.
Now more widely I know that there’s a counsel of despair about Scottish Labour and also about the UK party. But this isn’t the wishful thinking of someone who’s about to depart the stage, because I take a different view. Adam Smith once said that there’s a lot of ruin in a nation, and he’s often been misunderstood in that quote. He wasn’t being pessimistic but characteristically sceptical and guardedly optimistic about the resilience of a nation. In the same spirit today, there’s a lot of ruin in our party, but we will come back, we always have. And I know there’s never a guarantee that you will always come back, but you always can come back. And I’m confident that at the end of the leadership context that I see Jeremy Corbyn has managed to get his requisite numbers of nominations, I won’t say what I would’ve done if I had that choice, but I’m confident that … Actually, we might want to talk about that after, I’ll give you a reflection. But at the end of this leadership contest I’m confident we’ll begin to start that work.
Now, there are three specific election-related points I want to make; each may seem obvious, but I think all are important. Firstly, we have to avoid the prime failure of many defeated political parties, which is implicitly blaming the voters. How could they not have voted for us, how couldn’t they have seen the truth; how couldn’t they have shared our passion; why don’t they have the same beliefs and sense of priorities as us? It’s the first law of politics that the voters are never wrong, and as a member of a party, where only three leaders since the war have won an election, that’s a hard truth but nevertheless it is a truth; the voters are never wrong.
And sure, the Labour Party’s bruised and I’m bruised, but I’m a democrat too. And when you lose on the scale that we did this year, then some reflection is needed. If you decide to blame the voters then you’re wrong. If you can’t work out why you lost then you have to think again. In the words of Wittgenstein, you have to go back to the tough ground. The second lesson is that all successful political strategy starts with posing the right questions, and asking the most Leninist of questions: what is to be done?
There was a view over the past five years, mistaken as some feared, and is now being proven to be the case, that there was a route to victory without winning over any Tory voters. Some thought that a coalition of non-Tory voters could be brigaded behind Labour while the Conservatives were struggling to see off UKIP on the right, when in truth we faced our own threat of UKIP on our own doorstep. That theory has now been exposed for what it was. It was wishful thinking.
To wrest power from a Tory majority Labour must do what it has always done when it wants to win our own majority. Win Tory seats by winning some Tory votes. There’s nothing ignoble about that. The ignominy in politics is being in opposition when you know there’s another route in your destiny. So what was for the past five years a contested opinion is now an electoral and statistical truism. Labour can only win if we inspire our traditional support alongside appealing to the very many decent Tory voters there are across the country.
My third electoral truth is that the path to victory in Middle England runs right through the heart of Central Scotland. Calculated purely on swing needed, the easiest two Labour targets to win back in Scotland are my old seat of East Renfrewshire and the seat of Edinburgh North and Leith; a seat that we won first from the Tories back in 1997, and a seat that we had held since 1945. They’re respectively seats 26 and 44 in the simplest of UK target lists for the next UK general election. Essential gains for any Labour recovery let alone any Labour victory. So Scotland I believe still has to be front and centre in the 2020 UK election for the Labour Party, just for the sheer numbers alone, though I admit, when you look further down the list of Scottish seats and targets, then my pleas may seem a little quixotic.
On the face of it I’m demanding a huge allocation of resources and time to Scotland, because on the pure swing the former mining seat of Midlothian which we held for years, and even has an honourable tradition of electing communist councillors, that seat of Midlothian is harder for Labour to win than Kensington – not a seat noted for a radical trade union or even communist tradition. But it would be perverse to target Kensington, but it’s essential to win Midlothian, for on a uniformed swing that is the seat that gets Labour back to 21 constituencies in Scotland, just over half of what we had until May. So until Labour looks like being able to peg back the SNP in Scotland, then any future Tory leader will be able again to deploy Cameron’s strategy of hurting Labour as powerfully as Nixon’s southern strategy hurt the Democrats.
This is powerful for the Tories tactically, playing the SNP bogeyman or the SNP bogeywoman, and you can see how it can theoretically deliver for them electorally too. But the consequence will be a second referendum. And they have form on the constitution. They played politics with home rule for Ireland and Ireland was lost. As the saying goes, there are real dangers in playing with fire, someone will get burnt.
So how best does Labour deal with this? And I only offer my own reflections. How do we avoid a repeat of this defeat? First, to win a country you need a compelling vision of our future and its future. Compelling, inclusive and for a party at the centre of politics, one which is based on genuine fairness, and we sometimes lacked that across the UK. There was a sense that people who abided by the rules and did their best in life and brought up their children and worked hard and who stuck by the rules just weren’t getting on; and others who didn’t do that were perceived to be getting an advantage over them.
But I’m not one of those who’s going to say it was all Ed Miliband’s fault. If that’s what you’ve come for to hear today you’ve come to the wrong place and you’re listening to the wrong person. Of course he and I had our private differences, which sometimes unfortunately spilled out, but I served in the Shadow Cabinet alongside Ed, until I became the leader of the Scottish Labour Party, and then I had his full support for the campaign that I chose to run in Scotland. In truth, Ed was true to his convictions and took the party in the political direction that he pledged he would when he stood for the leadership, supported incidentally by many of the people who now unfairly and publically chastise him.
So our 2010 leadership contest seemed to be about who could most effectively distance themselves from one of our most successful Prime Ministers, and at times the early stages of this contest is beginning to feel it’s a competition about who can demonstrate distance from our last leader; but this shouldn’t be about who can run the furthest from Ed Miliband, but about who can travel the fastest and most authentically back towards the British people.
Now I’ve been clear about the scale of our Scottish defeat and the mountain that we have to climb, and we have to be equally stark about our defeat across the rest of the UK. In truth we suffered two-and-a-half defeats in one Election Day. Reverses against the SNP in Scotland, reverses against the Tories in large parts of England, and partial retreat to UKIP where they were also challenging us. In fact, it appears that Labour lost ground to our primary opponents, whoever it was, in different parts of the UK, and that’s the most difficult thing for the Labour Party I think to come to terms with. This is particularly sobering because objectively it’s my opinion this was probably the easiest election that we will face before I am a pensioner.
Because the Liberal Democrats were absorbed into a Conservative Government, Labour were the undisputed opposition party, not just the largest opposition party. Because living standards had not risen through a whole parliament and the pocket book test favoured us. Because the House of Lords had rejected a Tory move on boundaries, and the electoral map appeared to favour Labour. Because a lot of Liberal Democrat voters with buyer’s remorse after the coalition cuts, that we though they would come back to support the Labour Party in sufficient numbers to get us across the line. Each and every one of those assumptions was tested to destruction at the election, and for a very good reason too. You cannot assume your way to an election victory. And to paraphrase the only other leader out of the last nine who’s won an election, the victory of ideals must be earned.
So I look forward to a leadership contest from today that the debate reflects the depth of our defeat, rather than a one more heave mindset. Let’s have a genuine contest of ideas about what we should learn for the future. This has to be a contest about what we should do and not just a confession about what we didn’t do, not just a lengthy mea culpa, however good that is for the spirit. A living, breathing political party needs much more than that. Bluntly we need a reckoning with our past.
And I want to start in that spirit of confession, and I don’t say that as a Catholic, I don’t mean that type of confession, but I want to start with one of my own. It’s time for some of the arguments of the recent past to be put beyond use. Principally the one between Blairites and Brownites, and incidentally whoever said that Liz Kendall reminded them of Taliban politics should be ashamed of themselves. But those politics and divisions between Blairites and Brownites I think have to come to an end, and let’s be frank, what a self-indulgent and self-destructive struggle that was.
And how do I illustrate this? I was part of it. In the last two months of the election campaign I spoke more to Ed Balls than I did in the previous two decades and I realised how wrong I had been. I had no closer support from any colleague during that election campaign than Ed Balls. At times I thought if he’d spent more time in his own constituency than in my campaign in Scotland, perhaps he’d have won his seat. But how wrong to wait until so late in the day to work together properly.
One of the exciting things about this leadership contest is that at last hopefully we can genuinely move beyond those old divisions born of the mid-1990s in the Labour Party. So avoid mistakes of the past is critical. So is not learning the right lessons. I fear that might happen in the debate about the EU referendum. Our mistake wasn’t that we participated in a cross-party campaign that swamped the Labour campaign. Labour could not stand back from a leadership role in the defining campaign of our lifetimes north of the border. Our mistake was to have very little identifiable Labour campaign of our own at all, or more precisely, to have one that lacked heart and soul despite the admirable work of some prominent politician. Even Gordon Brown’s great eve of poll speech in Maryhill in Glasgow wasn’t a Labour Party event. It was put on by Better Together.
We need both the mobilisation of the Labour Party and the Labour movement to stay in Europe, and for us to play a central role in a cross-party non-partisan campaign. The alternative is one which we can’t afford, where we allow Cameron a space to be centre stage and to claim the credit for saving Britain from a catastrophe to which a large part of this party are handmaidens? Beyond the European referendum the question about how we win in 2020, it’s not good enough just to say that the Tories lack a coherent vision for our nation’s future. All I would say about that is it’s certainly a better view from Downing Street than where we find ourselves at the moment. So even though their split over Europe runs the danger of being as fundamental as the one over the Corn Laws that split them in the 19th century, we shouldn’t deny that they won’t the last election and they won it well.
To beat them we can’t just be as good as them, we have to be better far better than them. We have been there before and we can do it again. We had the dreams and we built them, and now we live in them from the NHS to the council houses to the new towns in Britain of equalities, and we need those new dreams. So what is our story going to be? To be frank it’s to stop talking endlessly only about public service reform and start talking about market reform. Ed was right that energy markets need reform and competition. What is demanded from us are believable plans, ones that is profoundly and genuinely pro-business, for while consumers lose out from big markets, so do businesses. As Ronald Reagan used to say, it’s simple, but it just isn’t easy. Big problems need those thoughtful solutions and at our best that is always what we have done.
For Labour that means acknowledging our weaknesses, but we also build on our strengths, the strengths where we see the individual as a solution, not the problem. Give the people the right support and the right chances, and they will build a Britain better than the politicians, not one we can draw on now. We shouldn’t be setting out specific and detailed plans about how we build that nation for them; that may seem paradoxical, a politician denying that he or she can define the future in detail, but I do mean it.
We have rightly abandoned nationalisation and industrial policy, but too many politicians seem to have transferred that instinct to direct aspects of public policy where I don’t think it’s right. Liberty and freedom are great Scottish, English and British values. We shouldn’t be protecting the public from themselves. We should be freeing them to make more of their own decisions, particularly in their own communities. If the people must be trusted to choose a government they can surely be trusted to take that responsibility. Trust to the dreams of the many: we don’t need to be the engineers of their souls. Britain can be a country with that sense of fairness and that sense of change of power.
I want to finish with a personal reflection. Since I was first elected, we live in a country that I think is more socially Liberal, but arguably at the moment is more fiscally Conservative, and where people’s identification with a political party has diminished dramatically, where a younger generation of voters are either promiscuous in their voting intention, or abstemious altogether.
Looking back over my time in politics there are a few trends which have interacted to change things profoundly. Globalisation has put many decisions beyond any and all governments’ control and unleashed forces which are beyond individuals’ sense of self or sense of influence. During my time as a minister at the Foreign Office there were times in that building however where people appeared to be in denial about the force of globalisation and Britain’s role and influence upon it. But the forces at work may apparently include the negative impacts of Chinese manufacturing or the unlocking of the information, entertainment and interconnection which is social media and the internet. Either way, for better or for ill, they are now beyond our reach and influence.
And that sense of globalisation fosters a sense of powerlessness that can lead to surges of anger, and it can also give rise to the pessimistic populism of UKIP or the optimistic populism of the SNP. And then there’s the growth of social media, an immense and rich source of connection allowing intimacy between friends and family, and giving voters a direct connection with politicians. And that’s created a third change that I just wanted to mention, in the very nature of political discourse.
A new directness that has heralded a welcome demise in indifference, but it’s also abolished manners too. And I’ve experienced that myself over the last little while, and it’s great to come to an event where I don’t have to fight my way in, and the police aren’t arresting people while I’m speaking. You can arrange it, I’m sure you can. I know there’s at least one ex-Home Office minister in the room!
But look, when I think about it, politics is a serious business but it’s an engaging vocation. At its best it’s beautiful. In my view the best form of political put-down against an established politician, a man or woman in a suit, is humour. It’s not terrorising your opponents, it’s not denying them the space to have a debate, it’s not capturing the streets in an aggressive street nationalism of the sort that Scotland has had to witness over the past year; it’s humour.
I was in Oban during … I spoke about this in Scotland recently, I was in Oban during the referendum, I’ve only got two examples, there are hundreds of examples of humour through me, and not just me, others I hope. But when I was in Oban during the referendum it was Friday night and I arrived late in Oban. You won’t all know Oban but it’s a lovely place. And for the avoidance of doubt it wasn’t in my former consistency, so I’m not duty bound to say it’s a lovely place…, although my former constituency was a lovely place. Oban, I arrived late and the journalists from the local newspaper, ‘Where have you been, Mr Murphy?’ I explained it’s a bit of a journey from the south side of Glasgow to Oban. And she said, ‘Well, you’re about to start.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but why’s everyone got umbrellas on a sunny Friday night in Oban? Or why have they got their hoods up in this crowd?’ And the journalist, she said, ‘Well, that man over there,’ and this is an example of humour, ‘that man over there is here to disrupt your meeting, he is Oban’s official seagull whisperer and he is currently summoning all these seagulls to come and shit on your heads.’ And he had done! And the meeting lasted two or three minutes, and they did shit on our heads. But he wasn’t a seagull whisperer – he had two bags of chips, but anyway.
Or when I was going into Celtic Park a while ago and I was in a queue, and it was actually a couple of years ago now during the expenses thing, and I was going into Celtic Park, as I sometimes do… not often enough. And I was in a queue and this guy behind me shouted, ‘Murphy,’ and those of you who don’t know enough about Glasgow Celtic, I wasn’t the only Murphy there. And that game at the weekend tested my family’s loyalties across the generations. A draw was a great result between Scotland and Ireland for many people in my family.
But anyway, ‘Murphy,’ and I didn’t turn around because look, a quarter of the people there are Murphys. And some of them turned around and he said, ‘Jim.’ Now, again, if you don’t know Glasgow … I think there are very few Glaswegian men here, but almost all of you are called Jim. So again I didn’t turn around. And then a beer can hit me in the back of the head, a Tenants beer can, and I worked out that was the signal that it was probably me. And these two guys, with great humour, because two days beforehand I had played at another football ground, at another … I’ll be careful because there are Scottish journalists here, what I call them. Glasgow Rangers, I’ll call them, Glasgow Rangers Football Club, Kevin, you won’t be pleased by that. But I had played in a charity game to support the homeless and I had scored, and I’d celebrated in the way that you do if you score a goal at my age. But I forgot I had a Rangers strip on, and it appeared on the back page of the Daily Record newspaper. A fine newspaper, Torcuil.
And it appeared on the back page of the paper. So I was in the queue, ‘Murphy’, ‘Jim’, beer can. He said, ‘Murphy, I saw you in that Rangers top, your family must be ashamed of you. Why couldn’t you just have been stealing your expenses just like everybody else?’ <Laughter> So there’s all sorts of experiences where my only advice to my opponents is humour is better than aggression and it’s a more effective put down.
But look, as I said, it abolishes manners too and at times that anger and powerlessness meshes with the directness of social media that creates a brutal and vile conversation. And so much of that has changed since I started in politics and I’ve thought hard about what I would do if a young person advised me whether they should get involved in politics. Firstly I’d say that you have to be careful, very, very careful about the social media vapour that you leave in your teenage years. I think we’re in danger of only electing politicians who spend all of their post-pubescent pre-politics life in the library.
But despite our faults and foibles I believe it is a noble profession. And despite how we sometimes treat one another we all try to do our best to improve the country that we love. I leave politics with a genuine sense of unease; an unease about the disadvantage that many of the people that I grew up with still experience. I leave politics with a genuine sense of unease that the poor still live 9 years shorter lives than the prosperous, an unease that the poor are seven times more likely to be admitted to hospital because of alcohol abuse, they’re 16 times more likely to be admitted to hospital because of substance abuse, and where the poor are still 3 times more likely to take their own lives. No politician can have a sense of satisfaction or a sense of comfort in a country as divided and as unequal as ours is.
So while I’m so proud of so much of what we achieved in power, the national minimum wage, peace in North Ireland, civil partnerships, we changed lives of millions forever, for good, in both meanings of that phrase. At our best that’s what we do and for me that’s been more than enough over these years. So as I start to think about a life out of politics I would encourage another generation of idealists to get involved; my only advice is do it with your eyes wide open and with a very thick skin. Thank you very much.
Jim’s very kindly agreed to answer questions. No question too outrageous. The only house rule is you have to state your name and organisation.
Libby Vena, ITV News
If you feel that you have no future in the Labour Party, what future does the Labour Party actually have?
No, Libby, I love the Labour Party and I will be in it until the day I die. I wasn’t born into the Labour Party. I think I’m right in saying … I can’t say it’s true but I believe it to be true, no member of my family has ever been a member of any, in this country, has never been a member of a political party. My brothers were members of the ANC, I lived in South Africa, it doesn’t sound it, and years ago other members of my family would have been members of Sinn Fein in Ireland. Not the Sinn Fein of the 1960s and 70s incidentally, before you get strange ideas.
So I’m not from a family that is generationally Labour, but I will die Labour and I will help in every and any way that I can. However I won’t be … I know a lot of you want to interview me after this, I kind of said I don’t want to do any interviews, because I’m not going to be the type of ex-Scottish Labour Party leader who offers unsolicited advice to people who come after me.
Look, unsolicited advice is a euphemism. I mean the truth is it’s criticism. Unsolicited advice is criticism. No matter how you frame it, that’s how it is. So I won’t be popping up on the telly. But look, all I would say, I think, Libby, what’s behind your question is how someone can have my politics. I think the Labour Party is a very sentimental party, very sentimental, and that’s part of the beauty of it, is that despite some of the brutality of the briefing back and forward,we are relatively sentimental, we eulogise our past and I’m proud of so much of our past.
But we should also treat that new Labour period and Tony Blair and the success that he had, and we should honour that as part of our tradition. We shouldn’t go back to it and try and reinvent it; that would be foolish. I mean much of it’s not relevant, but we shouldn’t dishonour it, we shouldn’t trash it, because it’s one of our most successful periods in government in our history. I mean you could argue it’s at least our second most successful period in government in our entire history.
And the Sinn Fein thing, sixties and seventies, wasn’t it sixties and seventies? Do you know what? I don’t care what you write! Write what you want!
Tim Reid, BBC
You’ve set out what you think the new leaders of the party should do. Who do you think should be leading the party in Scotland and who should be leading the party in the rest of the UK?
My gosh, multiple choices. I’m going to keep out of it. The Scottish contest, not all of you will follow the Scottish contest. It’s a contest between my ex-Deputy and my close friend, well, actually they’re both good friends. Ken Macintosh has been my constituency MSP since the creation of the Scottish Parliament and he is brilliant. And Kez Dugdale is an astonishingly talented young woman who was brilliant and loyal to me as deputy. I think they’ll both do a great job, I’ll vote in secret as an individual citizen, and I only have one vote this time. I think in the leadership contest last time around I had five votes. So that’s another welcome reform that Ed introduced.
On the UK leadership, I want to get to the end of it knowing that we’re electing our next Prime Minister, and that’s who I’ll vote for, the one who convinces me that they’re going to be Labour’s next Prime Minister. Unlikely to be Jeremy Corbyn. I don’t think I’m giving much away there.
But on one level it’s good that he’s on the ballot. I remember back to 2010 when Diane Abbott was struggling and I was David Miliband’s Campaign Manager, and in the interests of openness as the Campaign Manager I asked some of David Miliband’s supporters to nominate Diane Abbott, and that’s how Diane Abbott got on the ballot paper. I’m not entirely sure she’s thanked me for it. In fact … That would be uncharacteristic though, wouldn’t it?
John Ware, Panorama
You made a glancing reference only to trade union barons. Any last words for Mr McCluskey?
Goodbye. I’m sorry we never met. I don’t mean that. Actually it’s a bizarre thing; actually we’ve never met but we’ve been in the same room. Labour Party Conference, it’s a big room. And I’m puzzled, as I said a couple of times before, people usually wait to get to know me before taking such a visceral hatred towards me. And on the basis we’ve never met I’ve no idea what I done apart from I stand up to bullies. Whether it’s on the streets of Scotland where street nationalism thinks it owns the country, it owns our flag, it owns our history, it owns our patriotism, it owns our nation’s story, I’ll stand up against that in my country; and when people try to do that in my party I’ll do the same. I don’t mind.
Jim, isn’t one of the problems the Labour Party now has is that it cannot speak to the British people collectively with a left of centre economistic message, because it’s been captured by a series of new left middle class elites and identity groups, and the narratives of multi-culturalism, neo-feminism, political correctness and a dogmatic pro-Europeanism don’t play well with traditional Labour votes in a large section of the floating electorate?
And I’m not sure that question would either!
But I think I got it. Neo-feminism and dogmatic pro-Europeanism. Look, gosh, I could start all over again. I understand most of it. What would I say? I think there is a problem for the Labour Party’s old organisation model where not … I believe in unions, I believe in the union of these islands and I believe in people joining unions in the workplace. My view, but it’s for the people to decide, not enough people join trade unions today. It’s one of I think the wisest investments people can make from their wages in the workplace, despite what I said … actually, because what I said about Len McCluskey.
But the old organisational model is broken, but in looking for a new type of … Look, the danger here is we see the threat of UKIP amongst working class voters and we lock ourselves into that pessimism, on immigration in particular. Look, I said earlier as a Murphy I should be the last person who attacks immigration. This country largely, not completely gave my family a warm welcome, but to the extent that the welcome was lukewarm, it wasn’t based upon nationality, it was based upon religion in West Central Scotland. So I don’t think we should get locked into an argument that immigration is bad for our country, because it’s not. It just isn’t.
I know it’s tough for a lot of people and I know it creates pressures in communities but it is not bad for our country and we shouldn’t pretend that it is. I think the problem we have and the problem we had the last general election, I think much of our manifesto really inspired me, it really did. But the problem is I only get one vote. It can’t make me vote Labour twice. And we had loads to say to, and about, the homeless and the hungry. Zero hour contracts, living wage, minimum wage, food banks and much else besides. But one of the lessons from that election and one of the lessons actually from the work that’s been published today by Policy Exchange is that an appeal to altruism isn’t enough. It just isn’t. An appeal to altruism will get us the same result we got the last time. I wish that wasn’t the case, but it was. And so a sense of appeal to ambition alongside an appeal to altruism, altruism will get us some of these groups that you were talking about I suspect, but it will only get us this far.
Another reflection on the election I think for all the political parties, it was the most isolationist when Assad is dropping barrel bombs in children. Where was that conversation? To the extent we had a discussion about foreign policy it was about a European referendum. To that sense I thought our manifesto was inspiring but it wasn’t broad, and the political discussion genuinely was the least open spirited and the most isolationist that I can remember, and that’s not good for our politics.
Sorry I’ll give you shorter answers.
Emily Ashton, Buzzfeed
Hi Jim, you talk about former politicians offering unsolicited advice and how that criticism in your mind …
I know where this is going Emily, OK.
Emily Ashton, Buzzfeed
You were David Miliband’s Campaign Manager and I was wondering would you think what he says has been criticism of how you did it?
No, I say as a former leader, to offer your successors unsolicited advice I think is wrong. Look, I agree with much of what David has said, but I was asked this on the wireless this morning, well, it was a prerecord yesterday so I don’t know if it got on air, because I don’t listen to it. And look, in all my private conversations with David there’s no intent there, there’s no inclination he’ll be coming to frontline British politics. He’s got a remarkable … connected to this thing about Assad and Syrian refugees, look, what a remarkable job that is. An astonishing job, when more people are on the move, there are more refugees on the move today than any time since the Second World War. What an astonishing opportunity.
And without in any way criticising, Emily, your question on anything, that’s a criticism of the discussion about this; is when is David Miliband going to do something important? I suspect each and every day he’s achieving more than almost everyone in this room, or perhaps aggregate more than everyone in this room put together. Certainly any of the Labour politicians! Except if the leader of the local authority, when then you’re making some real changes.
John Lloyd, The FT
Do you think that unionism, not trade unionism, constitutional unionism in Scotland is now a minority pursuit and likely to remain so? And if it is, then were there to be another referendum which you seem to think is likely, then it would be won by yes this time?
There will be another referendum, whenever the SNP can get away with it. Why wouldn’t they? If you’re an insurgent nationalist party with unprecedented power and with an absolute majority, or the majority of parliamentarians in both of Scotland’s parliaments, the House of Commons and in Holyrood, why wouldn’t you try and engineer a set of circumstances that gets you another referendum?
My frustration is that Cameron is so lame-assly dumb on it that he’ll stumble into it and give them an excuse to do it.
Is unionism dead? No. I’ve never been a unionist however, I’ve said that during my leadership of the Scottish Labour Party. I don’t come from a classic unionist tradition, but I believe in the politics of solidarity. But I’m not a Rule Britannia kind of unionist, never have been, never will be. I’ve said before, if I thought independence was good for Scotland and good for these islands I’d be in favour of it.
But you think about all the things that we’ve achieved in the past together, and that old fashioned idea of unity and solidarity giving us strength, I think that’s a noble and important tradition. And when there is another referendum, when the SNP can get away with calling it, what will save Scotland from independence and the SNP? It won’t be a political party this time around; it’ll be the Scottish public. They’re too sensible. The Scottish public are too sensible. They’re sceptical, they’re intelligent, well-educated folk and I think … What are the two lessons the SNP take from the referendum? They have to kill the Scottish Labour Party and discredit the BBC, and genuinely folks, where is it in our politics where a mainstream political party can have prominent members and supporters … it’s not even a mainstream political party, the party of government having its supporters demonstrating outside the state broadcaster for fairer coverage; where is that the appropriate thing to do?
So the two lessons the SNP take from the referendum is kill the Labour Party, discredit the BBC. People have tried to kill the Labour Party before, without wishing to be impolite to others here, Mrs Thatcher tried it; it didn’t work then and it won’t work now.
Kate Devlin, The Herald
Are you sympathetic to calls from within our own party from a trapdoor on leaders who aren’t working?
A very short question, a nice answer to avoid.
Torcuil Crichton, Daily Record
You describe the SNP as a quasi-religious rock concert. Do you think nationalism or identity politics has eclipsed class politics and these C1s, C2s don’t really matter anymore, or they vote on the basis of national identity rather than what’s in their class interest? And if you are thinking of rock concert were you thinking Madonna or Iron Maiden?
Jonathan Isaby, The Taxpayers’ Alliance
Thank you for your thoughtful analysis and observations. You said that in his reaction to the referendum last year David Cameron was divisive and created a grievance. Could not the same accusation be levelled at you for having wanted to levy a new tax that would disproportionally have hit London and the South East in order to pay for the Scottish NHS? And do you regret that? And if not what would be your biggest regret?
My gosh, my biggest regret in politics. Is that it? Is that what you wanted?
Jonathan Isaby, The Taxpayers’ Alliance
That’s about it.
So let me think. On the trapdoor thing, Kate, I’m not attracted to it. I think rather than creating a sense of … momentum or a sense of purpose, I think it would from day one destabilise whoever the leader is, and instead of appealing to the country, they’d be making sure whoever has the hand on the trapdoor doesn’t pull the chord. And it’s the same in the leadership. You’ll end up with a leader talking to the party, so that the party doesn’t remove them.
No, I don’t share that view.
But then my general view of the leadership contest is that what will make this a great leadership contest is that in appealing for the votes of party members the candidates talk to the country, to those people without votes in this contest. Because to spend between now and September talking to ourselves, it’ll be the same as the last time, by the time we got around to talk to the voters again the voters will have stopped listening. So my appeal to the candidates is for each of them to appear like the next Prime Minister, by talking to the voters as a way of communicating to the party, because at the next general election in a general sense we’ve already got the votes of the Labour Party members. I want to elect a leader who can most appeal to those who didn’t vote for us the most time around.
On Torcuil’s point about identity and class and Iron Maiden and all that sort of stuff, I remember when I got elected the first time, I was the only Member of Parliament allegedly, it was a Sun quiz actually – sorry to answer a Daily Record question with a Sun reference, but I was the only new Member of Parliament who could name the five Spice Girls. That was the only coverage I got on my arrival. I don’t know if that counts as a rock concert. I’m more of a Jonny Cash guy than a rock concert guy.
Class solidarity, yeah, the Scottish election, identity trumped class and to think otherwise would be foolish. But I thought the Scottish Labour Party made a traditional appeal to class solidarity within Scotland and beyond Scotland and it wasn’t listened to. Now, again we shouldn’t draw the wrong lessons, and that election, the Labour Party could’ve made an identity argument and that wouldn’t have been listened to either. As I said earlier, the SNP’s campaign was a quasi-religious rock concert. I’m not saying the party, but the campaign. So people were not listening to our logic, whether we offered class or identity. But I think it’s a moment in our history, and to me, for the Labour Party, and I won’t say this on telly in the months or years to come, but for the Labour Party I have to say here’s how our country can be, and here’s how voting for our party helped get us there.
And I thought politics at the last election was relentlessly transactional. Vote for this and we’ll give you this. It lacked any sense … and this is across all the parties. There was a lack of sense of the destiny in the future of our nation and how voting for any of the political parties would get us there. I think that politics and class remains important. As I said earlier, I mean it isn’t an issue of national identity that the poor die nine years younger than the prosperous, it doesn’t matter whether you’re English or Scottish or Welsh or North Irish. It’s about income, wealth and power.
And if I thought nationality determined your life expectancy I would be a nationalist. But I’m not. Never have been, never will be. I’m a patriot and there are differences. So yeah, in that election identity trumped class, and saying all of this, I’m not a class warrior. I had represented the most prosperous people in the whole of Scotland. My constituency was the most prosperous in the whole of Scotland, so I don’t want to sound like a class warrior, because we’ll win the next election by yes, retaining the affection of what’s left of our core vote, but it’s a corroded core vote, corroded for the last month, but genuinely reaching out to those people who are financially successful or who want to be financially successful but don’t ignore the fact there’s a wider responsibility. But celebrating that financial success is really very important.
On Jonathan’s point about David Cameron. Well, first of all on the NHS tax thing, I don’t regret that, I’m really pretty proud of it. Again, my friend I helped put on the ballot paper in 2010 didn’t welcome that. But this was the idea that we share taxes across the United Kingdom. I think it’s important.
Unless, like the oil industry in the North East of Scotland is going through a tough time, but surely we don’t want a world where the wealth generated in the City of London stays in the City of London, and the decades of wealth generated in the North East of Scotland off Scotland’s North East coast in the oil and gas industry stays in that particular corner of this kingdom. I’m not comfortable with the politics of two exclusively wealthy cities retaining the predominant share of the taxes that are raised in or near those geographies. No, I think that pooling and sharing resources is important.
On David Cameron, this might be an unusual thing to say, but I thought David … I’m going to get killed for this tomorrow but I don’t mind. Actually I don’t mind but I won’t know about it. Sorry. I thought David Cameron had actually quite a good referendum, up until … well, first of all he did something that is very, very hard for a Prime Minister to do. Look, politicians generally think, ‘Do you know the problem? The public haven’t heard enough from me. That’s the problem. If only they knew the real me. If only they knew what I really thought then they would change their mind.’ And actually that medicine doesn’t work. The public want to hear less from you, not more. And David Cameron got that during the referendum. He came fleetingly and when he came he did well.
Two things he did well, one of which I’ll only say on the condition that no one writes it, which on the basis I’ve said that I’m sure you won’t … It’s a family thing and I don’t really talk about my family. But Cameron came to Scotland and he was self-deprecating, and he made Labour’s argument in some way for us, because we said the Tories are temporary, independence is forever, we can get rid of the Tories but once we’ve done independence there’s no going back. And Cameron came and said, ‘I’m not forever,’ and this is his quote on daytime telly, ‘I’m not forever, and the f’ing Tories can be gone soon.’ And I think for a sitting Prime Minister to say that he was temporary (before he’d announced he was temporary incidentally), and to basically insult his own party in a comical way like that I thought was sensible.
The second thing was my daughter heard him say that, and this is the bit you won’t write. My daughter heard him say that, and my daughter said to me, ‘Dad, you know, I don’t think that that David Cameron’s as bad as you say he is.’ And I said this to him a couple of weeks ago, and he said, ‘I hope you’ve put her through a sombre period of re-education, Jim.’ And I said, ‘Yeah, she’s in a salt mine as we speak.’ But anyway…
My quibble with Cameron is what he did the few hours afterwards, because if and or when we have another referendum the people of Scotland will say, ‘What’s your secret plan this time?’ So it was an astonishingly stupid, but more importantly a really distrustful thing and partisan thing and a dangerous thing for him to have done. And to me it showed that he cared more about longevity of his party than the stability of the union. And that’s a real difference, because I know the Labour Party’s paid a price for what we did last year, but it was the right thing to do. Country’s more important than party, and that solidarity north and south was more important than the short-term hit that the Labour Party’s taken. With that, thank you very much.