CfS response to Jim Murphy's Resignation

When Jim Murphy announced last Saturday that he was standing down as Scottish Labour Party leader, he took it as an opportunity to lambast Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey for his supposedly “destructive behaviour” towards the Labour Party. 
 
Murphy claimed that he had been “at the centre of a campaign by the London leadership of Unite the Union, (who) blame myself or the Scottish Labour Party for the defeat of the UK Labour Party in the general election.” 
 
He continued:  
 
“Sometimes people see it as a badge of honour to have Mr. McCluskey’s support. I see it as a kiss of death to be supported by that type of politics. … We cannot have our leaders selected or deselected by the grudges and grievances of one prominent man.” 
 
“The leader of the Scottish Labour Party doesn’t serve at the grace of Len McCluskey, and the next leader of the UK Labour Party should not be picked by Len McCluskey.” 
 
Such statements are, to put it mildly, problematic in a number of respects. 
 
McCluskey has twice been elected Unite’s General Secretary – in 2010, and again in 2013 – through Unite’s democratic structures and electoral procedures.  
 
If McCluskey really is guilty of “destructive behaviour” and his politics the “kiss of death”, then the Unite members who have twice elected him their General Secretary must be either: really stupid not to have seen through him; or willing accomplices of his destructive behaviour. 
 
Either way, Murphy’s criticisms of McCluskey amount to a gross insult of the majority of Unite members who have backed McCluskey in two successive union elections. 
 
Murphy’s claim that support from McCluskey amounts to a “kiss of death” is problematic in another respect as well. 
 
In mid-2013 Ed Miliband announced the Collins Review, involving a fundamental change in the relationship between affiliated trade unions and the Labour Party, one which will lead to unions having much less of a say in the Labour Party’s decision-making processes. 
 
McCluskey backed the Collins Review from the outset. Although many Unite activists opposed it, McCluskey argued for support for the Collins Review in Unite and in the broader trade union movement. 
 
But Murphy, and those who share his politics, did not denounce McCluskey’s support for the Collins Review as “the kiss of death” and more evidence of his “destructive behaviour”. On the contrary, they welcomed his support. 
 
Murphy’s claim that who Unite decides to back in Labour Party elections is the product of “the grudges and grievances of one prominent man” is another claim that does not stand up to a moment’s scrutiny. 
 
Unite’s approach to the Labour Party, including national and regional Labour Party leadership contests, is defined by its Political Strategy, adopted by the union’s Executive Committee in December 2011.  
 
The essence of the Strategy – publicly available on the Unite website – is summed up in a single sentence: “Winning Labour for working people, and winning working people for Labour.” 
 
When Unite decides who to back in Labour Party leadership contests, it does so on the basis of which candidate best represents the union’s policies, as summed up in its Political Strategy and in resolutions adopted at the union’s biennial policy conferences 
 
This is about as far away from making decisions on the basis of “the grudges and grievances of one prominent man” as you can get. 
 
And when McCluskey stood for re-election in 2013, support for the implementation of the Political Strategy was part of his election platform – underlining the point that McCluskey has not acted on the basis of “grudges and grievances” but on the basis on which he was re-elected by Unite members. 
 
Murphy was equally wrong in claiming that in the week between the general election and last weekend’s meeting of the Scottish Labour Party Executive Committee he had been “at the centre of a campaign by the London leadership of Unite the Union.” 
 
He had certainly been at the centre of a campaign calling on him to resign. But the driving force behind that campaign were ordinary members of the Scottish Labour Party who regarded Murphy’s position as untenable after the debacle of 7th May. 
 
The campaigning was initiated, organised and conducted by ordinary Labour Party members – only a minority of whom were Unite members. And even those who were Unite members were acting at their own initiative, not under the instructions of “the London leadership of Unite the Union”. 
 
Murphy was particularly angered by what he described as McCluskey having “blamed myself or the Scottish Labour Party for the defeat of the UK Labour Party in the general election.” 
 
But McCluskey’s actual argument was straightforward.  
 
The leadership and politics of Jim Murphy, following on from the Labour-Tory-Lib-Dem ‘Better Together’ alliance, had allowed the SNP to pick up the votes – in large numbers – of traditional Labour voters.  
 
The growth in support for the SNP had then allowed the Tories in England to win votes through an appeal to English nationalism, by presenting themselves as the people who would stick up for the English against the SNP. 
 
And that argument is backed up by facts. 
 
Anyone who canvassed during the election campaign will have experienced longstanding Labour voters saying that they were switching to the SNP because of – although certainly not solely because of – ‘Better Together’ and the politics embodied by Murphy. 
 
That was the sentiment which the SNP opportunistically played to in their election material (which would have been tried and tested on multiple focus groups before being published and circulated): 
 
“Labour used to stand up to the Tories. Not any more. Labour and the Tories campaigned together in the referendum. And they voted together at Westminster for deeper spending cuts. The only way to lock out the Tories and force Labour back to its roots is to vote SNP.” 
 
The surge in SNP support was then exploited by the Tories in England. We know this for a fact because the Tories subsequently boasted of the success of that strategy to the pro-Tory press: 
 
“Under the plan set out by Crosby the Conservatives would attempt to squeeze UKIP and Lib-Dem votes by playing on fears of the SNP while highlighting David Cameron’s leadership and fears of economic ‘chaos’ under Labour. All the messages had been extensively tested on focus groups in key marginals.” 
 
Instead of insulting the messenger, Murphy would have been better off listening to, and reflecting on, the message.