Continues from http://wp.me/p3f2py-aL
So what are the possible solutions?
First, there are the politicians themselves. It appears that there is a certain merit in well, being forthright.
It did Nicola Sturgeon no harm to stand toe to toe with her opponents and let fly like an ill-mannered fishwife. Farage slouches in the saloon bar with a pint of bitter and sneaks a not-so-crafty drag as soon as he can. Never mind that Nicola was brought up by a nice working class family in Ayrshire and has the benefit of a university education in the law, or that Nigel is a stockbroker educated at Dulwich College, alma mater of P.G. Wodehouse and C. S. Forrester. Nor do you need to take a swing at your opponents like John Prescott, although Labour’s polling went up after the Two-Jabs incident in 2001 General Election. But metaphorically, that too has its merits.
So a bit more aggression and a bit less fear of giving offence does not go amiss. Ed Miliband is actually pretty good at dishing out the vitriol when he puts his mind to it, if we remember his 2012 conference speech (from 32:00 onwards) Likewise, if we read Damian McBride’s memoir Power Trip, he tells us of a sardonic intellectual, with a ‘natural wit and charm, down to earth nature and statesmanlike aplomb.’ He also recalls Ed visiting Gordon Brown at Chequers, strolling round impersonating a Jewish pater familias “nice bit real estate, here.” This not the Ed we are used to seeing on our screens and in our papers.
Not least because of his low opinion poll ratings, we need to see the real Ed Miliband: not a phoney “man of the people” or anything like it, but perhaps like Sturgeon and Farage, a public version of his authentic self, but with the edges sharpened, not sanded off. The public Ed needs to be the real life Ed, projected bigger and more truthfully. This is one way to use the new proximity of the social media age, like MacMillan getting into people’s front rooms in an early television PPB and saying “between you and me”.
And at the Scottish level, we also need to see our new leader breaking out of the bonds of the media image straightjacket.
On Sunday last (23rd November) we were at the Glasgow leadership hustings. What we saw were three excellent candidates. Neil Findlay was pugnacious and gritty; Sarah Boyack was empathetic and surprisingly steely; and Jim Murphy was driven and emotive. The plea to all of them has to be: when you become leader, do not, whatever you do, go back into a shell of correctness and ambiguity.
There is no need to be insulting or boorish (leave that to the SNP) but people will appreciate it when you do not mince your words. So leave them in no doubt where you stand and, crucially, do it in your own voice. It is certain that you are going to be misrepresented, so make sure your message is clear.
And by the way, never apologise for what you believe in. Let us look to our leaders of the past. Like Donald Dewar can you imagine Donald caught in the snares the Lilliputians of the media? Or like Robin Cook – waspish and clever in equal measure? Or even most recently like Gordon Brown ripping the place apart at Maryhill Communtiy Central Halls with the sheer weight of his argument and power of his oratory. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J39bBV7CBJk No-one is going to be Gordon Brown, but he shows how to get the job done.
We would have left the hustings with a spring in our step, confident that Scottish Labour’s future was in good hands, if…if, if, if, it were not for the fact that two alternative events had happened in Glasgow the day before: the Radical Independence conference and the SNP rally at the Hydro. These showed the scale of the task ahead.
At the SECC, 3,000 assorted left extremists and Greens called for Labour to be annihilated at the 2015 election, regardless of our manifesto or the prospect of a Tory government. At the Hydro, Nicola Sturgeon wanted the same thing, as the SNP staged a 12,000-strong rally complete with mass hysteria and party songs both sentimental and bloodthirsty. If anyone in future wants to know the point at which the nationalist cause shaded across from the ludicrous to the sinister, they need look no further than Saturday 22nd November 2014.
Such is the scale of Labour’s task as we elect a new leader, and such is the timescale, that we need a two stage plan for recovery. First comes the very short period to the 2015 General Election, then the following year up to and including the next Holyrood election. In each of these instances, we face an existential struggle.
When we have a new leadership, and the Scottish Policy Forum is complete, we will know our programme for 2016. But for 2015, our programme already falling into place, with a range of redistributive policies, such as the Bankers Bonus and Mansion taxes, and the commitment to restore the 50% upper rate to Income Tax.
The SNP cannot match these, which indeed show the strength of Labour case, founded on our values of social justice. Specifically for Scotland, we should add some extra commitments, such as pledges to use power at Westminster to block any further independence referendum, and to hold a full independent public inquiry into the SNP’s misuse of the Scottish civil service in the 2104 campaign.
In this sense, the 2015 General Election will give Scottish Labour a very real opportunity to once again take up our case as a crusade. In doing so, we must fight on Labour’s record in government and put down any argument about the Blair and Brown Governments having let our voters down.
The message is simple enough: Labour succeeded in reducing poverty and improving the conditions and rights of working people, in rebuilding the NHS and in building new schools, hospitals and homes; we can and will do so again, while the aims of our enemies are a dead-end at best, and an extremist fantasy at worst. (It might also help to play a video of the Gordon Brown speech at every election meeting.) We need to say ‘only Labour has made Scotland better, and only Labour will do so again.’
The new leader will need to commit every minute of day to that crusade, and must inspire the wider membership to do likewise. The momentum shown in the hustings was to do exactly that, so that Labour again becomes a movement and not just a party. In an earlier blog, I outlined how angry Scottish Labour members are with our politicians. (As one friend asked me “who sold the jerseys?”) http://wp.me/p3f2py-aD It is the job of our new leader to turn that anger outwards, and unleash our energy into the 2015 General Election campaign.
The odds could not be higher: Scottish Labour Party is at risk of eclipse and potential extinction; Scotland and the UK are at risk of another Tory government; and democracy itself is at risk of being replaced by a pessimistic populism. If we are serious about being social democrats, we have a duty to do our best to ensure that none of these do not come to pass.