Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Man Who Would Be King

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.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Headline Hijackers

“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….