Sunday, 2 November 2014

Blair Transplant

The Sunday Herald carries a piece today about the extraordinary number of Better Together personnel now working for Jim Murphy in the Scottish Labour leadership contest.

Murphy's campaign launch in Edinburgh yesterday felt like a Blythswood Square re-union, with Alistair Darling leading the applause in the audience, and a throng of former Better Together press officers running errands and liaising with the media.

Blair McDougall's new Twitter picture
Blair McDougall, Better Together's former campaign director and Murphy's old friend, pictured left, even booked the venue.

McDougall, whose employment contract with Better Together ran to the end of the year, has also left the organisation early to help run Murphy's campaign.

One of those concerned says it's simple enough - lots of BT staffers admire Murphy because of the shift he put in during the referendum with his 100 towns in 100 days tour (which was a Better Together rather than a Labour event), and now want to return the favour and help.

But others in the party smell a rat.

Some of those close to fallen leader Johann Lamont reckon Better Together morphed into a leadership vehicle for Murphy a long time ago, and that McDougall and others blatantly promoted the East Renfrewshire MP with an eye to replacing Lamont.

If that's true, it would be the kind of classic New Labour stitch-up that Murphy has been acused of ever since he helped run the notorious Network that picked 'acceptable' Labour candidates in the 1990s.

An associated rumour is that McDougall's reward is to be the post of Scottish Labour general secretary, the party's most powerful official, and a real power behind the throne.

Jim Murphy launches his leadership campaign
So in the press huddle after his launch speech, I asked Murphy who he wanted as general secretary.

A simple enough question, you'd think, given Murphy has stressed that under him there would be no repeat of the sacking of the Scottish general secretary by London, the event which precipitated Lamont's stormy resignation.

Murphy has also emphasised that he'll be doing the hiring and firing.

Yet for a simple question, it yielded a very odd and evasive answer, the kind of answer that usually means a raw nerve has been touched.

You'd almost think McDougall's job had already been neatly stitched up alongside Jim's.

But, then, that would be a very New Labour thing to do, and Jim says those misleading labels are all in the past, so I must be mistaken.

Here's the transcript of the exchange so you can judge for yourself (spot the Freudian slip):

Sunday Herald: Who’s your pick for gen sec?

Jim Murphy: You make it sound like a football team. [Turning to other reporters] Who’s next? I don’t know who the candidates are, mate.

SH: Well Blair McDougall is at a loose end...

JM: Is he? Mmm. Ok. You’re quite fixated by him. It’s quite unnatural. Have you got pictures of him all over your room?

SH: Blair McDougall for general secretary, is that credible?

JM: I’m not getting involved in all that, mate. Now you’re going to write...

SH: You told everybody that you were going to be doing the hiring and firing. So is he going to be a hire for general secretary?

JM: I’m not the Scottish Labour Party leader yet. If I win... if I’m fortunate enough to win this contest, I’ll make those decisions, ok?

SH: Would you like him to be general secretary?

JM: Oh my gosh. I mean, is this my first day in politics that I fall for that sort of question, Tom? It’s not your first day in journalism, so you ought to come up with a better question than that.

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