Psychological projection is an interesting phenomenon. An individual will criticise others – usually quite forcefully – for patterns of behaviour that are more readily obvious in themselves, than the people that they are criticising.
I could not but help think of this condition, when Jim Murphy referred to the SNP as ‘David Cameron’s little helpers’, during a visit by Ed Balls to Glasgow a week ago, to give a typical closed audience presentation that was so much the hallmark of ‘Better Together’ last year. At the time, a number of individuals (including Angus ‘I’m taking nothing for granted’ Robertson MP) commented on the hypocrisy of this, after Scottish Labour willingly acted as Cameron’s boot boys in the Referendum, delivering campaigning that Cameron could not be seen to do himself, and voting to support continued austerity cuts, as well as avoiding repealing the bedroom tax (because that would be more convenient for Labour to have a platform on during election time – so let’s not get rid of it early with a Commons’ vote, eh, guys?).
The willingness of Jim and his small band of merry men to jump at whatever piece of bait is thrown for them by the Conservative-press is remarkable – a Pavlovian level of Twitter response kicked in as soon as the Telegraph non-story broke on Friday night, so keen were they at a rare opportunity to get stuck in to Nicola, without bothering to check the facts first. This had a couple of hilarious outcomes – one being Dougie Alexander hastily deleting 48 hours-worth of Tweets, the other being Kezia (first to Tweet within 3 minutes of the story’s release) Dugdale’s dad reprimanding her on Twitter with ‘check facts before opening mouth next time, Kezia!’.
But if the primary target of the scam story was to make left-leaners hesitate about supporting Nicola, it can be argued that that was far from the main objective UK-wide: to have Labour Party leaders (Ed did it too) pile in saying how shameful it would be for the SNP to let the Conservatives in again, also is likely to push those moving towards voting Labour instead of the Conservatives, right back to the Conservatives again. All it took was some ill-chosen criticism by Labour to do it –and some of Labour were all too daft to fall for it. The condemnation that Labour representatives uttered was exactly what Cameron wanted them to say, on both counts, as it attacked Nicola’s rise as a credible force, and also made Labour look bad for reacting so negatively to the idea of him remaining. ‘Cameron’s little helpers’ worked overtime for him over the weekend…then woke up on Monday wishing they hadn’t.
Of course, Jim’s projecting of criticisms of himself on to others is probably quite understandable – he changes policy position so fast, that it must be hard for him to know what to be attacking people with on a day-to-day basis, from one press release in the morning to the next one, half an hour later. Although Jim might not have been deleting Tweets as frenetically as Dougie, it was recently highlighted that Murphy had been removing pro-austerity cuts interviews from his website, as part of his strategy of repositioning himself as a left winger to ‘combat the Tory cuts’ that he apparently used to so dearly love. Now he opposes tuition fees – although he voted for their introduction in 1998, at which point he described free university education as “incoherent, indefensible and unrealistic”. Now he is opposed to the war in Iraq, despite his well-documented hawkish history to the contrary. Even on the NHS, his proposal to hire a thousand extra nurses was framed in the context of ‘a thousand more than whatever the SNP says’, and he did indulge in deleting social media posts when he made erroneous claims about operation cancellations in Scotland because he got his figures completely wrong.
Then there was the bizarre ‘Yes for Labour’ campaign (smothered at birth by Scottish Labour) as an attempt to appropriate the ‘Yes’ voters that they so vindictively derided throughout the Referendum campaign. [Although perhaps he was – again – inspired by an SNP policy, in the way that the SNP website slogan these days is ‘Together we can make Scotland Better’ – shades of the ‘No’ campaign, anyone?] Even the one broken record repeating ‘a vote for the SNP is a vote for the Conservatives’ starts to fall apart when Robert McNeill – a member of Labour’s Scottish Policy Forum – and other Labour activists, start campaigning for their members to vote to get Conservative and LibDems elected – although this increases the chances of the current coalition government being reelected…and it is supposedly against party policy and apparently should lead to automatic expulsion from the Labour Party – just to try and block SNP candidates from getting to Westminster.
Then on Tuesday night in the debate, Murphy was arguing that the Institute for Fiscal Studies had made very clear that Labour Government did not have to make the forthcoming cuts after the 2015/16 budget year – but Ed Balls and Ed Miliband asserted the following day that they would do just that. This was categorically reiterated by Chuka Umunna, Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, on April 13th’s Daily Politics show in emphatic form, with the somewhat harsh rejoinder to Andrew Neil: “The leader of the Scottish Labour Party will not be in charge of the UK budget”.
His capacity for reinvention – or attempted reinvention – seems Madonna-esque in stature, but he risks coming to a similar pass as she did during her Brit Awards performance.
I did see one April Fool saying Jim Murphy had resigned and joined the SNP (somewhat unlikely, given Scottish Labour’s obsession with Westminster above all else – especially for the expenses claims opportunities), but what was less clear that morning was if his interview with James Naughtie was a similar ‘huntigowk’. In that programme, Murphy declared that he would of course work closely in opposition with the SNP at Westminster…when the only people who could put themselves in opposition (by putting the Conservatives in) are Labour…by refusing to work with the SNP to support their government. How does that work, then? As much as no party wants to discuss scenarios where they fail to win a majority before it actually happens, the logic of Jim’s assertion is that Labour would rather be a party of opposition and let the current government continue, rather than be serious about stopping it.
Jim did not have the best of campaigns in the Referendum, at one stage last January being openly laughed at by BBC Radio Scotland commentators (normally quite supportive of Scottish Labour), at his attempt to ban supporters of independence from TV audiences (although, for an insight as to how he ‘may’ see his role in that part of history, this video is both highly entertaining and, indeed, informative in that regard: http://wingsoverscotland.com/history-tomorrow/ especially if you are aware of the archaeologist Neil Oliver’s presentation style). But his gimmick of the Irn Bru crate (regardless of whether it was one of his own entourage, as was suggested by photographs, that threw the famous egg at him) gave him the profile to be nominated by Party Central for the Scottish leader’s job, after Johann stormed off in high dudgeon. Around about now, he may be wishing he had not been such a ‘high profile success’ (for such things are definitely relative) for the ‘No’ campaign, as his immediate career prospects have begun to look a little as though they hang on the proverbial Scots ‘shoogly peg’. Last night, on the STV Scottish leaders’ debate (which seems to have been poor compared with last week’s offering), Jim was up against Nicola Sturgeon for the first time since her Thursday night success on the UK Leaders’ Debates, in a position of nothing to lose, and everything to gain, especially knowing that he could rely on the support of Ruth Davidson and Willie Rennie against her. According to the initial polling after the broadcast on who won, he does not seem to have made many inroads (Daily Record’s poll: Nicola 71%, Jim 19%, Ruth on 10%, Willie 0%; Press & Journal poll: Nicola 77.69%, Ruth 11.02%, Jim 9.68%, Willie 1.61%), but he did appear to use his favourite strategy of football references to try and show he is ‘one of the people’ – David Cameron, he informed the audience, was not Lionel Messi. So how’s that shrewd populist manoeuvre working out, Jim?
Murphy once said “I won in 1997 without really trying. Tony Blair won my seat.” Since claiming that formerly safe Conservative seat with a 3,000-odds majority, he has boosted that majority through boundary changes to over 10,000 (claiming over a million pounds in parliamentary expenses between 2001 and 2012 in the process). But he has a mountain to climb to reverse his unpopularity ratings both within his own party and across Scotland (his popularity rating dropped 13 points from December to March at -2, leaving him 23 behind Nicola; YouGov’s net satisfaction ratings at the start of February gave Sturgeon +42, Murphy -10), and a whole range of them to traverse in order to gain credibility with the electorate (his leadership rating is -25, compared to Nicola’s +33). With such a heavy baggage of personal and party inconsistency, reversed policy decisions and a party seemingly deviating from his script, that journey – as Paul Kavanagh notes – won’t simply be done through being “borne aloft on nothing more than John McTernan’s frantic spinning and the dust created by a thousand press releases.”
“Credibility is the bridge away from populism and towards popularity. It is difficult to sustain popularity without genuine credibility.” (Jim Murphy, Daily Telegraph, January 2012, criticising “shallow and temporary” populism in place of “genuine credibility” – explaining, in the process, why today he is neither popular nor credible)