Had to laugh last night when unsuccessful Labour Leader candidate’s Twitter alter ego Tam Horris commented that he was off to drown his sorrows but wasn’t the demented engineering officer down in the bowels of Das Boot also called Johann? It was classic Harris and one of the reasons that I, for one, am disappointed that what Tom had to offer was given such short percentage shrift by all three elements of the party. Because, however much they may not want to hear it, Tom was the iconoclast, the voice of reason, the shrewd observer with an acid tongue who has had the courage not just to question the emperor’s clothing, but to do it in an engaging and insightful way.
Since results were announced 24 hours ago, many messages of praise—from all political quarters—have rolled in for Johann Lamont’s success and I quibble with none of them. She has a dozen years’ experience, a reputation as a doughty fighter and would not have reached Deputy (let alone Leader) in any modern political party without ability. But, if I were to associate myself with any of the commentary published so far, it would be with Gerry Hassan’s blog on a Seven-Step Recovery Plan for Labour. She ignores it not at her but at Labour’s peril.
Because Labour have shown questionable political judgement for years now. It started with Jack McConnell but found its nadir just two days before their May catastrophe when Iain Gray delivered his most personal attack on Alex Salmond by arguing his handling of the banking crisis and release of the Lockerbie bomber exposed “fundamental flaws” in the SNP leader’s character and judgement. Within 36 hours, when interviewed by STV, he was admitting that Labour itself had to “address some fundamental questions about the structures and organisation of Labour in Scotland.”
Unfortunately, in a further six months of his tenure, it didn’t. As his opponent in the May election, I can attest to Iain being a decent guy who, when not posturing in parliament, can listen when required and make sense when speaking. He’ll make a decent back-bench MSP (and I certainly hope so because he’ll be mine). He had a hard time keeping up appearances at the count when it looked like he might lose. And you only have to look at his record as a minister—it was on his watch at Transport that the whole trams fiasco was born—let alone his years as Leader to see a man out of his depth. Margaret Curran’s ringing endorsement sounds all the more hollow the more you know of Iain’s career.
The key question for Ms Lamont is, therefore: how can SHE make the real difference Labour so urgently needs? The runes are not good. While I do endorse Gerry Hassan’s hopeful suggestions, I also look to Lalland Peatworrier’s analysis of the vote share (but not actual votes) as signifying the fractiousness within her party. Given her reliance on the party establishment, where will she find the courage and resolution necessary?
One week before the votes were counted, Tom Harris, effectively ruling himself out as a possible winner, said the party was “in deep trouble” but was not prepared to make the radical changes required to turn around its fortunes in Scotland. “We need to think outside the box. There is no indication that the party is prepared to do that yet and I don’t know why.” Tom’s a loyal party man with much hard work, including pioneering social media, to his credit. That his candidacy received thin support speaks volumes.
And what of Johann herself? “I am honoured to have been elected the first Leader of the Scottish Labour Party. Thank you to everyone for their support and kind messages” and congratulations to her new deputy are her only tweets. Her blogspot has nothing since a speech dated October 27th. Scottish Labour’s website carries her statement:
“While I am delighted and honoured to be elected leader of Scottish Labour Party, I believe the real work starts now. In May, we fell short of people’s expectations and they turned away from us, unable to find a reason to give us their support. If we are to earn the right to serve the country, our challenge is to listen, to learn lessons and to demonstrate that we can change. I am confident that once again people will recognise that Scottish Labour is the party which understands their lives, can deliver their hopes and will stand up for Scotland.”
This could have been written after any Scottish election over the last decade. It remains to be seen whether she will be just another name in Labour’s decline in Scotland or whether she can develop ideas and finally make a difference. For the sake of Scotland, I hope she does. But, just as the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, the road to political oblivion is paved with pious but substance-free statements like her one above.