David Maddox: Jim Murphy’s last confession illuminated

It may be his faith or just that he is off into the political wilderness and doesn’t care any more, but Jim Murphy was in a confessional mood yesterday as he delivered his final speech as a politician.

Jim Murphy. Picture: Robert Perry
Jim Murphy. Picture: Robert Perry

The confession was not a shock, but the details of the depth of his sin and that of others was. Mr Murphy finally admitted that he was one of the Blairites taking potshots in the never-ending feuds with the Brownites in Labour.

This bit was not a surprise, although a few hacks remembered his previous stock answer on the feuds: “You have never heard me brief against anybody else in the party.”

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Well no, he may not have briefed directly, but plenty of journalists have heard Murphy’s hangers-on do the briefing for him and saying something is not the only way to brief negatively.

The stunning bit, though, was the revelation: “I spoke more often to Ed Balls in the last two months than I did in the previous two decades.”

It was a damning admission, and if anything illustrates the dysfunctional state of the Labour Party and why it is now on its knees it was that confession.

We need to remember that Murphy and Balls sat around the same cabinet and shadow cabinet tables for years and barely exchanged a civil word.

Mr Murphy admitted he was wrong and that he should have worked more closely with the former shadow Chancellor and others, and even suggested that Mr Balls’ efforts to help save the party in Scotland may have cost him his own seat in Yorkshire.

Murphy was obviously appealing for an end to the feuds in the party but, in a sign that a leopard does not easily change its spots, he peppered his speech with barbs at the leftwing London MP Diane Abbott and Unite general secretary Len McCluskey.

However, ignoring those two personal dislikes, Murphy’s point was completely correct. One of the reasons for the “catastrophic failure” in Scotland, as he put it, and elsewhere for Labour was the “self indulgence” of the party in running an ongoing internal soap opera where it treated different factions within itself as the enemy. It ended various political careers, lost the party talent, stymied its message and in the end, voters did not take it seriously and switched to the Tories and SNP.

The real question is whether, apart from Mr Murphy, that lesson has been learned. He said he would vote for the leadership candidate who could be “Prime Minister” but refused to name one. By that, he also meant bring the party together.

What we have seen already is the old factions gathering around Andy Burnham on the left and Liz Kendall on the right. Ms Kendall has been described as “Taleban New Labour”. The hopes of redemption are not great.