LABOUR was in turmoil last night north and south of the Border with Lord Mandelson, former deputy prime minister Lord Prescott and former first minister Lord McConnell all leading calls for the party to regain the centre ground.
Less than 24 hours after the Unite union demanded the departure of Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy – a stance underlined by the resignation of left-winger Neil Findlay from his shadow cabinet – Lord Mandelson waded in to demand that the unions’ “abuse and inappropriate” influence on the party leadership is ended.
The former business secretary and Labour director of strategy warned that the party now faces as tough road to recovery as in the 1980s.
There was also criticism of the “presidential style” of Labour’s campaign by Lord Prescott.
The struggle between the unions and so-called Blairites came as potential contenders began to put their hats into the ring for the UK party leadership.
But the general-secretary of the GMB, Paul Kenny, has told Lord Mandelson to “get back to his deckchair” and warned a move to the right would be a disaster for the party.
Meanwhile Lord McConnell backed Mr Murphy staying on as leader but insisted fresh thinking was needed and demanded an end to the factionalism that tore the party apart and led to last week’s humiliating defeat.
However, in a warning to the left of the party, he said that the SNP managed to appeal to the left, centre and right in Scottish politics and appeal to people’s aspirations, and Labour needed to do that as well.
His views were echoed by former Gordon Brown adviser Kenny Young, writing in today’s Scotsman, who says that last week’s defeat to the SNP, which saw Labour lose 40 of its 41 Scottish seats, showed that “nationalism had defeated socialism”. He said: “I am no Blairite and I put myself on the centre-left of Labour, so I was proud of our platform. We were going to tax the bankers, tax the mansions, tax the rich and redistribute wealth and opportunity to those sorely lacking it. But we were emphatically rejected.”
Both Mr Young, who was defeated in Midlothian, and Lord McConnell called for Mr Murphy to be given another chance.
Mr Young noted: “One of the many problems for Scottish Labour is that the position of leader had become a joke. We’ve had a rate of turnover that would make the Ibrox boardroom look stable, and we’ve put people into that job who – quite honestly – were never leaders. We should build Jim up, like the SNP built up their top team.” Meanwhile Lord McConnell criticised Labour’s culture of “score settling” after the party’s disastrous general election result in Scotland.
Asked if Mr Murphy could stay, he said: “I think he can. I think we need a period of reflection. I think what we saw yesterday was a bit of a quick reaction.
“I don’t think this kind of blaming, or let me say score settling, puts the Scottish Labour Party on the right foot.
“I think part of our problem in the past has been that we have been perceived by people in Scotland to have a kind of nasty element within the party, looking at each other all the time.”
Lord McConnell said he believed the “rot” in the Scottish Labour Party had “started further back than eight years ago” when he lost the 2007 Holyrood election to Alex Salmond.
He said: “I think we’ve had a problem as a political party, particularly amongst our Westminster representatives, in responding in the post devolution era.”
Meanwhile, Lord Mandelson and Lord Prescott were scathing of UK Labour’s strategy under Ed Miliband.
Lord Mandelson said in 2010 the party was sent out on a “giant political experiment” to “wave our fists angrily at the nasty Tories and wait for the public to realise how much they had missed us”.
He went on: “Well, they weren’t missing us and they didn’t miss us. Instead, they ripped the stripes off our shoulders and that really is the depth of our defeat and the scale of the challenge we face now.
“I was there in the 1980s and early 1990s as the party’s campaign director. I think now the scale of the challenge we face and the need for rethinking and remodernisation of the party is akin to the sort of scale of challenge we faced in the late 1980s. That’s how serious it is.”
Lord Mandelson said the party had ignored people who aspired to improve their lives but also backed Labour’s desire to ensure social justice and fairness. He questioned why this group should vote for Labour if the party was not totally committed to helping them.
He said: “Literally, we were sent out and told to say things and to make an argument, if you can call it an argument, which basically said we’re for the poor, we hate the rich, ignoring completely the vast swathe of the population who exist in between.”
Meanwhile Lord Prescott was damning of the campaign waged by Labour.
He said: “We fought a presidential-type election based on computers, charts, focus groups and even the American language – hell yes? Hell no!
“It was designed to get 35 per cent of the electorate while Cameron focused on getting more than 50 per cent of the seats. And he won.”