Jim Murphy reforms Labour; admits career is over

Jim Murphy speaks at the Scottish Labour Headquarters in Glasgow, as he stands down as Scottish Labour leader. Picture: PA
Jim Murphy speaks at the Scottish Labour Headquarters in Glasgow, as he stands down as Scottish Labour leader. Picture: PA
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JIM Murphy has pushed a radical package of reforms through Scottish Labour’s ruling body in his final act as leader.

In his “dramatic” plan to revive the party following its humiliating general election defeat last month, Murphy revealed there will be an overhaul of Labour’s candidate selection in Scotland and an end to the formal role of trade unions in the election of party leader - and announced that he would now “leave the stage” and ­never return to electoral politics.

The former minister, who served in cabinets of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said “my political career is behind me” as he put forward what he called the most radical shake-up of the party in decades and a platform for a “new generation” of Labour politicians in Scotland.

Murphy ruled out standing for election again, saying there were “new challenges for me” as Scottish Labour set out plans to elect his successor by ­15 August. Scottish Labour’s ruling national executive approved his report on reform of Scottish Labour by a two-thirds majority after Murphy submitted the plan yesterday and formally stepped down as party leader.

Under the plans, Labour will adopt one-person one-vote ballots for members and registered supporters in the election of leader and deputy leader rather than using what Murphy called the “arcane” electoral college system, which gives a formal role to trade unions in leadership elections.

Setting out the plans, Murphy condemned the “boss politics” of the Unite union, which played a leading role in forcing him to step down following the party’s general election meltdown on 7 May.

In another key reform, Labour will reopen the selection of its candidates for the regional list of MSPs in the 2016 Holyrood election to encourage people such as NHS staff, charity workers and figures from business who support the party to stand.

And in a controversial change, sitting Labour list MSPs will no longer be automatically re-selected but will have to seek re-selection from members in a move that will allow local parties to replace poor performers at Holyrood.

Murphy said the shake-up of candidate selection would end a “type of closed shop where sitting MSPs are protected at the top of the list, and where their election doesn’t come on polling day, but on internal selection day”.

Councillors will also be allowed to stand for Scottish Labour’s deputy leader post for the first time ever, something Murphy said would allow the “most innovative politicians” in Scotland to hold high office in the party.

The party will also embrace a system of US-style primaries in time for the election of its Westminster candidates at the 2020 general election, along similar lines to the system Labour is using to select its candidate for London Mayor in 2016, by which supporters can pay £3 to vote in the selection.

The Scottish Labour leader and deputy leader will automatically be top of the list for the region they are standing in, Murphy said as the five-point plan was approved after a four-hour meeting of the ­party’s national executive in Glasgow.

Murphy said the party was to blame for its historic defeat last month, when he was one of 40 Labour MPs in Scotland to lose their seats in an SNP rout.

However, the former East Renfrewshire MP said the near wipeout for Scottish Labour had made the case for reform “far easier”, as the party had failed to embrace radical change after its defeats at the hands of the SNP in 2007 and 2011.

In an emotional speech, Murphy said: “The voters who deliver the verdict are never at fault – the defeated party is.

“The defeat last month was terrible for the Scottish Labour Party, but it makes the difficult argument for reform far ­easier.”

Murphy said the programme of reforms would mean the end of “block votes” or “super votes” in Labour leadership elections for unions whom he suggested had held too much influence over the party, and the introduction of a new system that gives each individual party member or registered supporter one vote each.

“We will abolish the arcane electoral college so our members and affiliated supporters will decide our next leader. There will be no block votes or super votes – instead we will vote by one-person, one-vote, where every individual vote is worth the same.”

Murphy also launched a fresh attack on Unite’s leadership after he previously accused general secretary Len McCluskey of “destructive behaviour” by attempting to dominate the party.

Unite was one of the major forces behind a no-confidence motion in Murphy at last month’s Scottish Labour executive when the ex-MP announced his intention to quit despite narrowly winning the vote. Speaking yesterday, Murphy said: “My criticism was of the boss politics of the Unite leadership, not the members. We shouldn’t allow the actions of the top elite of Unite to sully the noble cause of trade unionism.”

Murphy said Scottish Labour would also end the “guarantee of re-selection” for sitting list MSPs for next year’s Scottish Parliament elections in a move that will make it easier for party members to oust long-serving politicians.

“He said: “I’m very proud of the work of Labour’s list MSPs. But our current rules are unfair and have operated a type of closed shop where sitting MSPs are protected at the top of the list, and where their election doesn’t come on polling day, but on internal selection day. So we will abolish the closed shop arrangements for list MSPs so that every Labour Party member has a fair chance of standing for the list, and so that incumbency isn’t a guarantee of re-selection. I want every current list MSP to stand in those selections.”

Murphy said the changes to candidate selection would also centre on attracting new blood and make it easier for those joining Labour to stand.

“From now on, Scottish Labour will actively publicise the rule that says, ‘come and join us, and come and stand for us’.

“We want business people, charity workers, NHS staff and many others who support Labour to stand for Labour – even if up until now they never felt able to join Labour. I believe the reforms we put in place today will stand my successor in good stead and offer the chance of renewal for our party.” He added: “As for ­myself, after I have made a speech on Monday about the future of the party, I will leave the stage.

“I will be a source of discreet advice – if asked for it by my successor – and I will always be an active and faithful servant of the party that I love so much. We live in a moment of history where nationalism seems more important than solidarity, and identity much stronger than class. But it is, I believe, just a moment and not Scotland’s destiny.”


Tom Harris, former Labour MP: Opportunity to finally drag a reluctant party into the real world

IT SAYS all you need to know about the desperate plight of Scottish Labour that the modest proposals for reform presented yesterday by Jim Murphy were, even for a second, the subject of controversy.

That there isn’t already a unanimous view that the absurd, outdated and undemocratic electoral college used (too often) for electing its leader should be consigned to history is a pretty damning indictment of a once invincible party.

And, at the risk of besmirching the undoubtedly fine qualities of some of Labour’s MSPs, the list candidates for next May’s elections were always going to be revisited, surely? The “accidental MSPs” who found themselves in Holyrood in May, 2011, were almost as surprised at what had happened to them as were the voters. That alone should have set alarm bells ringing in party HQ long before now.

And it’s this crucial issue that, almost more than any other, explains Scottish Labour’s demise. Four years ago, our leaders were comfortably certain that after four years of SNP government, those silly voters would have learned their lesson and would, inevitably, return to the Labour fold. The party would (reluctantly) forgive them their careless fling with the SNP and we would say no more about it.

In the meantime, since the party was going to do so well in the constituency vote, who cared whose names filled the blank spaces on the regional list ballot papers? Who did you say wants to be on the list? Never heard of them… yeah, sure, whatever.

And then polling day happened and the electorate’s flirtation with the SNP started to look less like a one-night stand and more like a couple looking at venues for the reception. And suddenly there was a realisation in the party that maybe they should have read those list candidates’ CVs a bit more carefully. And then the next four years happened and here we are.

Parties win – or at least recover – when they are determined to leave their comfort zone, when they challenge themselves, when they start to do things radically different from The Way It’s Always Been Done.

Jim Murphy’s reforms didn’t exactly represent Scottish Labour’s Clause IV moment; his suggested changes won’t grab anyone’s attention beyond the small and exclusive clique of party activists and a few dedicated reporters.

But they do threaten, at long last, the complacency of the party establishment and its power brokers by suggesting – horrors! – that maybe we should try to be a bit democratic and ever so slightly professional.

And therein lies one of the biggest traps awaiting Scottish Labour: yesterday marked the triumph of Jim Murphy and the modernisers in bringing forward “radical” reforms that voters surely recognise have been standard practice in every other party for years.

Still, better to arrive in the future later than everyone else than not to arrive at all.