David Maddox: Jim Murphy is well-qualified to lead

FORMER Labour prime minister Harold Wilson famously came up with the maxim: “A week is a long time in politics.” In recent days, we have learned that three years is a lifetime, or at least a life-changing time, certainly in the case of Jim Murphy.
Jim Murphy has displayed his seriousness by ditching his shadow cabinet post. Picture: JPJim Murphy has displayed his seriousness by ditching his shadow cabinet post. Picture: JP
Jim Murphy has displayed his seriousness by ditching his shadow cabinet post. Picture: JP

Back in 2011, Scottish Labour was on its knees. Under Iain Gray’s leadership, it had surrendered a 15-point poll lead and suffered one of the biggest political gubbings in modern political history at the hands of the SNP in the Holyrood election. At the time, senior figures within Scottish Labour and elsewhere begged Mr Murphy to go to Holyrood to save the party. He did not stand and instead the party had the uninspiring choice of Johann Lamont or Ken Macintosh.

Three years on and one referendum later, Scottish Labour, still apparently yet to get off its knees, is once again looking for a leader, but this time Mr Murphy wants the job so much that he has ditched his shadow cabinet job to save Scotland. What has changed?

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Three years ago, Ed Miliband’s leadership was in crisis and Mr Murphy was the candidate of the party’s right to take over, in what many expected would be a contest with Yvette Cooper. While Mr Miliband’s leadership is still in crisis, the inability of Labour to ditch leaders has, in effect, according to insiders, ended Mr Murphy’s Westminster career.

The widely held view among Labour MPs is that if Mr Miliband won the general election, he would not give Mr Murphy a cabinet post. He has already been demoted from shadow defence to shadow international development. However, if Mr Miliband lost, Mr Murphy’s star as a future leader has waned, with other potential candidates such as Tristram Hunt or Andy Burnham emerging. In such an event, at the age of 47, he would find himself facing another five years in opposition.

So, while giving up front-line politics looks like a major sacrifice for Mr Murphy, the logic used by his colleagues is that the prospect of potentially becoming First Minister of Scotland represents the best chance of success for a particularly ambitious politician.

When his now-famous 100-day referendum tour began, several fellow MPs viewed it as the start of his leadership bid, well before Ms Lamont’s departure.

However, Westminster gossip can be unfair. It is quite possible that the shock of the referendum experience and what he saw on that tour has persuaded Mr Murphy that he needs to step into the breach – and there is no doubt Scottish Labour needs a big beast.

One thing both friends and detractors agree on about Mr Murphy is that few are better qualified or able to do that than the former Scottish secretary.