Jim Murphy’s starting really to piss me off.
Ideally I’d be operating a policy of diversity on this blog by occasionally lambasting other targets, such as the splendidly named tax-pauchler, Lord Fink, and his getaway drivers HSBC, or “Helping Slimeballs Blatantly Cheat”, as they’re never, ever called in the Telegraph. But invariably, before I get round even to sharpening my pencil, Jim outdoes them all with yet another tripe-laden pronouncement I’d have to be comatose to ignore. I’m starting to worry that folk will suspect me of being secretly obsessed with him, and of having a Murphy shrine with a potato-shaped candle hidden away in the depths of my wardrobe, next to a slightly whiffy Scotland top.
This week we first saw Jim on Sunday afternoon, lurking outside New Douglas Park plying puzzled Hamilton Accies and Aberdeen fans with flyers about his new campaign (copyright Scottish Conservatives, 2013) to re-introduce bevvying at the fitba’. The BBC was as likely to ignore this as Stephen Fry is to be the next Archbishop of Canterbury, so, as Monday’s Morning Call switchboard combusted into a glob of melted wires, it initially looked like a net-bustin’ publicity coup for Team Murphy’s silky-skilled spinmeisters.
But no such luck! Alas for Jim, the bevvying proposal doesn’t enjoy the universal acclaim to which he normally feels entitled whenever he breaks wind or claims to have spent his entire childhood in a drawer. It’s what cadaverous civil servants smirkingly call “brave”, when they really mean “batshit crazy”. The benefits are questionable, the downside’s a nightmare in waiting, even punters in favour only give about 0.001% of a toss, medical experts and domestic abuse support groups are spitting rivets, and in the public mind it irrevocably associates Labour with the 1980 Cup Final riot. What sort of bacon sandwich face will Ed pull when he susses out the electoral consequences of that?
Never one to walk past a wasps’ nest without giving it a good head-butt, Jim decided to turn the argument into a class issue. It wisnae fair, he girned, that posh rugby fans could sip vintage claret to escape the depressing spectacle unfolding on the pitch, while salt-of-the-earth fitba’ fans were marooned in anguished sobriety, weeping into their bunnets.
Now, far be it from me, surreptitiously shredding my old copies of the Hutchie Herald, to deny that class distinctions are still a problem in society. The next time rugby fans dismantle Murrayfield in a Beaujolais-fuelled rampage, I’ll bet the judge treats them with kid gloves and settles for impounding their Waitrose loyalty cards.
But, in the context of the fitba’ bevvy debate, Jim’s sudden emergence as a class warrior rang about as true as a plastic bell on a Noddy hat. It looked like clueless pandering, because that’s exactly what it was. I don’t know, maybe he was trying to send some sort of signal to his information-starved East Renfrewshire constituents. “So long, ya middle-class pricks! I don’t need you and your fondue evenings any more, and I’ll be coming round later to piss in your koi carp pools!”
Now, here’s a tip for any masochists wanting a truly soul-destroying job: try being Team Murphy’s Expectations Manager. You’d have struggled to convince even seasoned Murphy-watchers that his pitiful embrace of the booze culture would be the high point of his week, but, betcha by golly wow, it was.
The descent into the abyss began on Tuesday, when Jim’s attention predictably flitted back to that trusty old SLab hobbyhorse, NHS Scotland, where the standard narrative is to berate the SNP for falling short of self-imposed targets embarrassingly beyond the competence of just about any Labour administration in recorded history. I don’t know about you, but I find it hard to contemplate Labour running the Scottish NHS without horrifying visions of Jackie Baillie holding me down while Iain Gray tries to saw off my leg, only to realise halfway through that it’s his own.
Let’s be honest: the idea that NHS Scotland is “in crisis” is the product of one end of a horse, and I don’t mean the vanilla end. Some areas are under pressure, for sure, but it would help if staff didn’t have to waste countless additional hours completing fatuous Freedom of Information Requests lodged by Scottish Labour via its BBC representative, Eleanor “Misery-Guts” Bradford. Nor does it exactly boost their morale when Labour then “weaponsises” this information, by cutting out any bits favourable to the SNP and packing the gaps with mince before launching the result indiscriminately at the mass media.
Anyway, Tuesday’s snippet of data seemed to Jim like a real humdinger, too juicy to allow Kezia to bugger it up in First Minister’s Questions, so he thought he’d hop aboard the rocket himself and ride it all the way, whooping and hollering like the crazy commander in Dr Strangelove. With a gravitas of which any NHS matron would be proud, he recorded a solemn You Tube video, challenging the Scottish Government to come clean on cancelled operations being four times more frequent than in England.
Unfortunately, the pesky thing about information is that it comes in the form of words and numbers, and if you don’t understand those you’re knackered. It soon became clear that Jim wasn’t comparing like with like, and that if you stripped out cancellations for medical imperatives, clinical reasons, weather and patients getting cold feet (by either changing their minds or popping their clogs), the Scottish and English figures were pretty much the same. As SLab’s rocket exploded in a cloudburst way up high, it was Jim’s shredded credibility that rained down on a bemused public, in tiny angel-hair streamers of drivel.
It was hard to say which of Jim and the YouTube video was quicker to disappear from view, since both vanished within a timespan measurable only by Stephen Hawking. The following day’s music-facing duties were palmed off on Health spokesperson Jenny Marra, the party’s specialist at standing in front of a disintegrating wreck spouting nonsense.
The whole mess was the SNP’s fault, she maintained, for not initially publishing the figures themselves, forcing Labour to do all the hard sums. Presumably if they had published the figures she’d have been complaining about the lack of easy-to-follow diagrams, or bright colours, or a primary school teacher to help them when they got stuck. “Sorry” doesn’t seem to be part of Labour’s vocabulary, which is odd, since it comes between “Socialism” and “SOS”, which kinda sums up the party’s current position.
I wouldn’t recommend trying to get inside Jim Murphy’s head, because the echoes and sense of solitude would drive most people insane. But it’s legitimate to wonder what his game is. Has he given up on the 2015 General Election, like a football manager deciding relegation is inevitable? Is he now experimenting wildly for the future, in case one of his crackpot theories actually works? Perhaps he represents spin doctor John McTernan’s revenge on Ed Miliband for not being Tony Blair? Could he simply be - whisper it - a total, unmitigated numpty?
Or maybe, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the simplest explanation’s the most likely. The guy’s permanently off his tits on Irn Bru.