“The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about.”
Who’d have thought Scottish Labour would end up basing its entire PR strategy on an Oscar Wilde quote? Oscar’s a fairly unlikely influence for Murphy & Co, in that he (i) had a brain, (ii) didn’t spend his life plagiarising everyone else’s work, and (iii) never wrote a play called The Importance of Being a Lying Scumbag. Mind you, he’s also produced nothing of value for several years, owing to being dead, so I guess there’s some common ground with Labour there.
When your intellectual environment is so barren your last original policy idea was written in Middle English, I suppose you have to make the best of what you can find. Hence the ravening appetite of sharp-elbowed Jim and his acolytes for outrageous last-minute headline-grabbing. Take last week’s women’s prison review, commandeered by Deputy Dug in a breathless “intervention” on Sunday Politics lacking only facts, full stops and any indication of shame.
As any fule kno, Women For Independence and other groups had been lobbying on this issue for months, a period Labour had spent sitting in the corner picking its nose. If you believe wee Kezia was unaware of this, I’d like to offer you a wonderful business opportunity involving magic beans, in return for an e-mail containing your online banking IDs and passwords.
By now, of course, the bandwagon was going too fast for Kez to clamber aboard, so all she could do was aim a hefty kick at it to speed it on its way, then fall ignominiously on her arse. “It was that final waft of air wot did it,” prattled the usual chorus of SLab sycophants on Twitter, “and afterwards she landed with the aplomb of a practised gymnast.”
Meanwhile, the local branch office manager was engaged in a similar heist with fracking, the fashionable new craze that makes your tap water look like Irn Bru.
“It’ll be totally banned when I’m king!” proclaimed oor Jim. “Subject to various caveats, loopholes and outright pauchles, which you can find in our terms and conditions if you have access to a magnifying glass and Enigma machine. Scotland won’t be a guinea pig for fracking, even if it means shafting my colleagues in the north of England to demonstrate my spurious patriotic credentials. And why won’t the SNP tell us what they’ll do with powers they don’t yet have, to be delivered in watered-down form, if at all, at some arbitrary future point by an as-yet-unelected UK government?”
If any trainee Murphy-watchers out there were expecting a nugget of sincerity amongst all that grandstanding, please report immediately to the remedial class.
You’d think that, with a big “infrastructure” bill on Westminster’s agenda two days later, any self-respecting party would have revelled in the chance for its MPs to boot fracking squarely in the nuts. But, lo and behold, when it came to the one motion guaranteed to stop it, most of the insultingly small SLab contingent “tactically abstained”, a neat euphemism for flushing one’s principles down the cludgie. Instead, they actually voted to give fracking the green light, subject to a few additional regulations that, in essence, say it's cool for Cuadrilla to blast the living daylights out of your back garden as long as they send it flowers, take it out to dinner and promise to respect it in the morning.
Not that Jim himself witnessed any of this. With his proclamation relentlessly parrotted by BBC Scotland, who really ought to invest in a set of cheerleader’s pom-poms and have done with it, it was "job done" for him. So, as the fracking debate ran its dreary course in the Palace of Cynical One-Upmanship, Jim was otherwise occupied at a cheesy photo-op at Pittodrie, practising his keepy-uppy skills on a fellow bag of wind. Still, for every week he body-swerves the House of Commons he saves the tax-payer about five grand in expenses, so at least there’s a silver lining.
Now, rank opportunism may keep you on your toes (quite literally; watch out for Jim's imminent appearance as the centrefold in Joggers’ Monthly), but as a political strategy it's far from risk-free. Crucially, it relies on your audience being so comatose they could earn a living as draught excluders. This may be a highly desirable state of affairs for some on Labour’s dinosaur wing, not that I’m saying Jim’s profile in any way resembles a pterodactyl’s; but in Scotland, where the alarm clock went bananas for 85% of the electorate in the run-up to last September, sleepy-bye time is definitely over.
So how far can Labour go with these publicity smash-and-grabs before they become counter-productive, and even Daily Record readers apply the sniff test and condemn them for the charlatans they are? Have we already reached that tipping point, with the very opinion pollsters that proved spirit-sappingly correct about the indyref result now screaming about the vast margin by which Labour trails the SNP?
It’s difficult to be sure, but my gut feeling is that it would still take one piece of monumental, jaw-dropping cynicism, so blatant that it utterly obliterated the boundary between self-promotion and taking the piss. And surely even an outfit as bum-freezingly stupid as “Scottish Labour” wouldn’t….
Hang on a sec, what’s this headline in today’s Record?
The Vow Plus: Gordon Brown outlines Labour's four-point plan to deliver more home rule for Scotland
Light blue touch paper….