Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Lucky Jim

Of all the members of the shadow cabinet, Jim Murphy may be emerging as one of the most interesting. Regarded, unfairly, as a Blairite pur sang, Murphy has adapted to the leadership of Ed Miliband with a mixture of impeccable loyalty and a streak of independent thinking: willing to accept cuts to his department, firm on the nuclear deterrent and passionate about how we win the next election.

The shadow defence secretary is aided in this positioning by his portfolio. While there is a lot of room for big changes in domestic and foreign policy, the current Labour leadership is as unwilling as their recent predecessors to be seen as ’soft on defence’. On the other hand, the party will not react with rage if Murphy says he will accept Tory cuts to the defence budget. Other shadow ministers do not have that luxury, allowing Murphy to be both totally loyal and fiscally cautious.

Murphy is also willing to act independently. There are persistent rumours that his willingness to embrace cuts in the defence budget was not, shall we say, fully aligned to the strategic priorities of the team around the shadow chancellor, who acidly noted that Murphy had not quite embraced all the Tory defence cuts.

Murphy’s latest intervention – an attack on what he termed ‘Lazy Labour’ – has shown that he is willing to challenge orthodoxy outside his own portfolio. To understand his aversion to laziness, it is worth remembering that the austerely teetotal and vegetarian Murphy was first elected as MP for Eastwood in 1997. Eastwood was one of those seats Labour never expected to win, and expected to lose in fairly short order. It has not, not even in a series of pretty disastrous elections to the Scottish parliament. The reason for this is a culture of unrelenting hard graft. Murphy’s comments on the value of hard work come from an MP who has kept his seat while others have been washed away on the national tide.

This aversion is more than just a comment on a tendency among MPs and activists to hit cruise control when we think we are on the way to victory, though, and this is why it has prompted both media commentary and a response from Labour campaign coordinator Tom Watson. Watson is right to say Murphy was not attacking him personally, but the attenuated Scot is making a bigger point than just the need to knock on doors. What lies behind Murphy’s concerns is a worry that the next Labour government will face pretty tough challenges, and if it has just sneaked past the finishing post without a mandate for meeting those head on, governing will be something of an agony.

To get past that, Labour needs not just to win, but to win big. To do that may require a victory built on more than just the collapse of the Liberal Democrats and disenchantment with the Tories. This, in turn, requires what Murphy, loyally, calls a ‘One Nation’ electoral strategy.

The challenge Labour’s knight errant is laying down to the party is: ‘How big do we want to win?’ If the answer is ‘very’, he is suggesting that we need to start fighting the hard battles now.

Firing the starting gun, again

Now that the National Executive Committee’s organisation subcommittee has confirmed the next wave of parliamentary selections, it is becoming ever clearer that alongside the fresh-faced next generation of politicians looking for seats, there are a few more experienced hands looking at a return to the green benches.

Bob Blizzard, Anne Snelgrove and David Drew are already campaigning for a return to the Commons. Broxtowe’s Nick Palmer will be relieved his old seat has recently been confirmed as an open selection, while Tony McNulty might be somewhat less pleased that Harrow East has been given an all-women shortlist.

Yet McNulty might take heart. Your insider hears some former MPs are not restricting themselves to fighting their old seats. Whispers reach Westminster that former baby of the House Claire Ward has relocated to the east Midlands in time for selections, while Worcester’s former representative, Mike Foster, is interested in another west Midlands seat. It seems that, however hard IPSA tries, it cannot make being an MP an undesirable pursuit.

Osborne’s skipping session

Obesity might be a problem in Britain, but it is even more of a problem in Westminster. MPs talk ruefully of putting on a parliamentary stone, as a life of meals taken on the run, receptions, late nights and train travel makes a fitness regime somewhat of a trial.

So let us praise George Osborne, whose remarkable skipping exploits have gone from viral to inspirational. The less-than-iron chancellor was filmed attempting a skipping lesson at a local school. Unfortunately, his agility with the rope matched his fiscal incompetence, and the chancellor slipped, tripped and staggered his way throughout the session.

Mind you, Osborne’s efforts have left a sporting legacy, though not quite Olympic-sized. There is now skipping competition in the Westminster gym, with MPs competing to see which parliamentarian floats like a butterfly. Current champ is Tory David Davies, with Falkirk’s Eric Joyce taking silver.

And there is someone else who can certainly outpace the chancellor in the fitness stakes. Rumour has it that Ed Balls has been quietly keeping up his athletic career after his London Marathon experience. Could Labour’s Marathon Man be up for another long hard slog, showing up the skipping Bullingdon boy once again?


Cartoon: Adrian Teal

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