I wrote recently about coming back ‘off hiatus’ (as I believe the transatlantic phrase is…or maybe was, in the 1980s), but I should probably make clear that this is only in a writing sense, as I was still noting the news reports as they came in from various sources, no matter where I was in the world. In a large part, it could be said that little has changed – the polls of voting intentions for Westminster have remained remarkably solid since mid-December, and in that sense it could be said that not much has been missed by me being AWOL for the last 90 days.
But aside from those polls (and more on those in another post), some developments have been more remarkable. What is predictable in the world anymore, when a survey released on the 6th of January showed that for the first time the Conservatives (Cameron, 22%) were trusted as better at running the health service than Labour (Miliband, 20%)? That this is mirrored in Scotland by a YouGov Poll for The Times on 14th March showing that 47% of Scots think the SNP would be most effective at protecting Scotland’s NHS, compared to just 20% for Labour, is less surprising, given what seems to be a largescale rejection (however temporary) of Labour in Scotland to be relied on to do anything, even protect their one achievement (the NHS) that these days is regularly cited as the one thing that makes people proud to be British. And perhaps this is reflected by Scottish Labour with the piece of buffoonery that was their pledge to deliver a thousand nurses more than anything the SNP offered to deliver, paid by the mansion tax – despite the fact that the £1.7M that is Scotland’s share (of a largely London-derived tax) won’t pay for a thousand nurses – and there aren’t a thousand nurses out there to be employed anyway. And, what if the SNP said ‘we will provide 100,000 nurses’ – do Labour automatically say 101,000??? It reduces their ‘policies’ to the level of playground tit-for-tat taunts, and reminds me of Douglas Adams’ account of the ‘Shoe Event Horizon’ as a phenomenon when society collapses through all retail outlets having become shoe shops. Perhaps what Jim and Scottish Labour are pitching for is the ‘Nurse Event Horizon’ – so desperate to win back NHS Scotland support after trashing them repeatedly over the years of the SNP being the majority Scottish Government, that they have alienated a natural core area of their support. ‘If you become a nurse, we will give you a job – gonnae vote for us now, eh?’ A fiendish plot to grow their electoral support, by turning every voter into a nurse and giving them guaranteed employment. Clever.
Well, it’s a plan, Jim – just not as we know it. But maybe a smarter one than the determination to oppose the SNP even when it involves the curiously insane position of arguing for alcohol to be permitted at football matches again. In terms of our ongoing cultural problem with alcohol, 2013 saw Scotland with the largest death rate from alcohol of any of the countries of the UK, but still the only one to witness a significant fall in that death rate over the previous ten years. Murphy may posture this as New Labour’s version of ‘class warfare’ – allowing people to drink alcohol at football matches, just like the ‘toffs’ do at rugby – but it still is a policy that involves a high likelihood of increased alcohol-related deaths and domestic abuse…ah, perhaps this is where Jim got his idea from, for a further thousand nurses being needed by NHS Scotland? It is not so much that they are needed now (well…) – but he is making forward plans for the impact his alcohol policy will have in terms of increasing pressure on the health service. Clever. Again. As someone remarked not long ago, the correlation between long-term Labour wards and low life expectancy in Glasgow is striking: Labour may (in their faux internationalist posturing) state that they care about the worker in Grimsby just as much as the one in Glasgow – but that doesn’t mean that they are going to do damn all for either of them.
But let’s leave the bizarrely unique hue of Labour in Scotland at the start of 2015 to one side (as they now like to pretend that they only ever said ‘a thousand nurses’, without the playground add-on of ‘whatever the smelly SNP say’ – if only they hadn’t printed off all that literature with it on it…), as we look at the fortunes of the Labour Party across the UK in the context of that first poll: the idea that the electorate south of the border would abandon an intrinsic trust in Labour to look after their grand creation, the NHS…well, what next – cats and dogs mating in the streets? Are these not so much ‘Interesting Times’, as ‘End Times’?
To be fair, perhaps the phrasing of the first poll, with the named leader rather than the party, is telling – albeit in a slightly chilling fashion: confidence levels in Milliband as the next Prime Minister have been diving for many months, even when Labour were edging ahead of the Conservatives in voter support. There is something about Ed that just does not seem to inspire that confidence needed in a leader.
It is not completely comparable (of course it is not, it is not only a different question, but a different group of people being asked), but in this context it is worth looking at the leader satisfaction ratings in Scotland: Sturgeon +49, Cameron -40, Clegg -51, Miliband -45. Astonishingly, there is the same reflection in Scotland as noted for Ed with the NHS across the UK – the Conservative Prime Minister has greater satisfaction in Scotland than the Labour opposition leader?? Cats and dogs in the streets, indeed, as well as lions eating their own, and 6-legged horses….
Milliband may well be a liability as a party leader (only true if there is someone more credible who can get that job), and it was a long time ago that the party passed the point at which they could change him – as though horses in mid-stream – in time for the May 7th shindig. So he gambled, to try and shore up the Labour support in Scotland (and possibly rid himself of a tempestuous former cabinet member that supported his brother as campaign manager for his Labour Party leadership bid, along with Dougie Alexander) by sending Jim Murphy back up north to take over from Lamont. How is that working out? Well, when former Labour voters were asked the effect of Jim Murphy becoming Scottish Labour leader on their likelihood to vote for Labour, 20% said they were more likely, 28% were less likely, and 48% said it made no difference to them. So it has not exactly worked out too great, with a net loss in likelihood to vote Labour (as most people who had not spent too much time at Westminster predicted, he represents the toxic right wing of Labour that has had membership nosedive in Scotland since Blair was premier).
So, on the 30/1/2015, the Guardian published a poll of voting intentions which gave the following result in the Westminster elections: Labour 273, Conservative 273….and SNP 49.
Enter Nicola Sturgeon – and (next time) the only two games in town that Ed has left to play…
“You don’t get a banking crisis by employing too many nurses or teachers, or (for that matter) civil servants. You get a banking crisis by employing too many bankers.” (James Meadway, Senior Economist, New Economics Foundation, 4/12/2014)