Andrew Whitaker: Jim Murphy’s New Labour roots

Jim Murphy was very much a part of the New Labour hierarchy at the height of Blairism. Picture: Neil Hanna

Jim Murphy was very much a part of the New Labour hierarchy at the height of Blairism. Picture: Neil Hanna

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JIM Murphy, the bookies’ favourite in the Scottish Labour leadership election, is a politician who made his political name during the high watermark of New Labour in the mid to late 1990s.

However, in the past few weeks, he has made a concerted attempt to distance himself from this, stating at the start of the contest to succeed Johann Lamont that he was not standing on the basis of Old Labour or New Labour but that he wanted to end “losing Labour”.

The fact remains, though, that Mr Murphy is heavily associated with the New Labour wing of the organisation and came to prominence during a period that saw Tony Blair holding a firm grip on the party.

In fact, Mr Murphy was very much a part of the New Labour hierarchy at the height of Blairism, and there will be some in the party who fear a Murphy victory, with a leadership style similar to that of the early Blair era.

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But it is perhaps worth asking whether Mr Murphy’s Scottish Labour would really want a return to the days when policy and campaigning was tightly controlled by a small clique around the leader’s office and when figures such as Peter Mandelson ruled the political roost.

For starters, Mr Murphy is unlikely to win as comfortably as Mr Blair did when defeating his closest rival, John Prescott, for the Labour leadership in 1994, by a margin of more than two to one among the party membership.

True, Mr Murphy will be viewed by some within Labour’s ranks as an attractive prospect for leader, holding out the possibility of an end to a losing cycle at Holyrood that will be nine years come the 2016 Scottish Parliament elections.

But at the same time, the strong backing his likely closest rival, Neil Findlay, has already obtained from sections of the party for a platform decidedly of the left, suggests there is little appetite for a return to some of the worst excesses of New Labour.

Mr Murphy will also be also acutely aware of his vulnerability in leading the Holyrood party from the Commons, where he will remain as an MP at least in the short term, and the weekly jibes Labour MSPs will face from the SNP at First Minister’s Questions over their absent leader.

Should he win the ballot of members, parliamentarians and unions, Mr Murphy will doubtless lead the party in a direction that is to the right of Ed Miliband at Westminster.

But whatever his instincts, it may be an awareness of such issues and the prospect of a strong showing from his rival Mr Findlay that make Mr Murphy adopt a more conciliatory approach than that of Mr Blair, if the East Renfrewshire MP wins the leadership ballot.

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