Tom Peterkin: Labour needs Jim Murphy to stay

Under pressure Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy. Picture: PA
Under pressure Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy. Picture: PA
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THE calls for Jim Murphy’s head are unsurprising, given the calamitous nature of Labour’s defeat at the hands of the SNP last week. They are also inevitable given his humiliating failure to hang on to his East Renfrewshire seat.

But perhaps there should be a pause for thought before Scottish Labour lurches towards yet another bout of blood-letting that would see Murphy tossed on to the pile of discarded Labour leaders who have been unable to stem the Nationalist tide.

It is true that Labour suffered from a catastrophic failure of leadership during the general election – Ed Miliband’s, not Murphy’s. While Murphy’s leadership of Scottish Labour has become tainted by the election result, the entire campaign was hamstrung by Miliband’s failure to convince the people that he would make an effective prime minister. It would have been challenging enough for Scottish Labour to withstand the SNP’s hugely effective campaign had the UK Labour leader been a charismatic, vote-winning figure. With the hapless Miliband at the helm, a difficult task became practically impossible. For all sorts of reasons the younger Miliband simply did not cut it.

That does not mean Murphy is immune from criticism. Despite his reputation as a Blairite, there was dismay from some quarters that Murphy did not offer more for aspirational voters. He did, however, have bags of energy and drive. He also produced more policies than his predecessors in the five months since he took over from Johann Lamont as he tried to staunch the haemorrhaging of support for the party. Murphy’s vigour, however, was not enough to take on a movement that has developed unprecedented momentum and has benefited from the sort of strong leadership that Labour so obviously lacked.

Should Murphy be removed, Scottish Labour would doubtless turn in on itself and indulge in one of those tedious reviews recommending internal reform that fascinate the political anoraks but mean nothing to voters. At least if Murphy remains in the post, he can look outwards and attempt to stimulate a grassroots revival.

But the strongest argument for Murphy remaining is that there is no obvious alternative. That may be a damning indictment of the state of the party, but it is the harsh truth. There seems little point in replacing Murphy with a talented youngster like Kezia Dugdale when Labour are in line for another hammering at the Holyrood elections next year. If Murphy becomes a general election casualty, his successor could face calls to quit after a bruising Scottish election. Should that happen, the pile of discarded leaders will grow –and popular support diminish further.

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