Andrew Whitaker: Murphy’s similarity to Tony Blair

Tony Blair, before his leadership became tainted by the last Iraq War, was seen as an inspiring figure by many. Picture: Ian Rutherford
Tony Blair, before his leadership became tainted by the last Iraq War, was seen as an inspiring figure by many. Picture: Ian Rutherford
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JIM Murphy’s detractors have been quick to label the new Scottish Labour leader as a “Blairite” and an ultra supporter of the ideas of “New Labour” that so came to dominate UK politics from the mid-1990s onwards.

While Mr Murphy was undoubtedly heavily associated with New Labour at the time of Mr Blair’s ascendency, the newly elected leader has suggested the party needs to move beyond the internal battles of yesterday and that he simply wants to “end losing Labour”.

Whatever the truth behind Mr Murphy’s adherence or not to Mr Blair’s politics, what’s striking is the almost identical language he uses.

Mr Murphy, in his first keynote speech this week, talked about how “the sense was created that people who wanted to get on would have to leave the Labour Party behind”, using terminology apparently straight from the phrase book used by Mr Blair two decades ago.

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Back in 1994, just weeks before his election as Labour leader, Mr Blair declared in an interview that the “reason we have been out of power for 15 years is simple – that society changed and we refused to change with it”, taking a similar theme to Mr Murphy’s opening gambits as leader.

Mr Blair – long before his leadership became tainted by the last Iraq War, his closeness to George W Bush and a drift towards neoliberalism – was actually seen as an inspiring figure by many.

In the early years of his leadership, it’s often forgotten there was the buzz of a genuine radicalism about Labour, with a new dynamic leader ready to replace the hugely unpopular Tory government of John Major, by then exhausted by scandal and almost weekly mishaps.

It’s almost as if Mr Murphy has sought to paint himself as a more Scottish version of the Edinburgh-born Mr Blair, with the new leader’s talk of how Labour in Scotland faces being caught in a “trap” set by the SNP by allowing itself to be seen as unpatriotic, just as he suggested the party in the 1980s allowed itself to be seen as hostile to individual aspiration.

Mr Murphy may continue to distance himself from a New Labour-type political agenda, and it’s hard to imagine Mr Blair, either in the mid-1990s or now, saying he wanted to make the wealthiest few “pay a little more”, as the new Scottish Labour leader has done.

But even though Mr Murphy may be keen not spend too much time talking about his backing for Mr Blair in key Commons votes during the New Labour years, such as the Iraq War, the introduction of tuition fees and a cut in single-parent benefit, it’s highly likely his presentational style will continue to be strikingly similar to that of the former prime minister.

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