Nothing New, Nothing Resolved
Kezia Dugdale started her reign as leader of Scottish Labour by thanking all of her predecessors, and, it was a long list (she’s the eight leader since 1999). We wish her well but she’s so inexperienced it’s incredible to think that she’s in this position at all (by a huge majority) and she’s entering a shitstorm of unresolved Labour infighting and political confusion. She got the deputy she didn’t want. She distanced herself from Corbyn so she’ll be in trouble when he wins. She’s got all the gravitas of a rag doll. Worse than all this she doesn’t appear to have anything to say. For the team who are ‘dropping the baggage of the past’ (a difficult task for Jim Murphy’s deputy who surely must be tainted with at least some of that disaster) what’s new? Whilst the Corbyn campaign has lit up English politics and attracted tens of thousands to join Labour and created a storm of debate, where has the debate been in Scotland? The mild-mannered and likeable Ken McIntosh made some stylistic points about excessive ‘nat bashing’ and that’s the extent of the debate we’ve heard. For a party that has just been obliterated you’d have thought they might want to have a wee reflection on what went wrong?
Dugdale’s inexperience is a major flaw but any leader would find it difficult to cope with a party as factional, mixed-up and divided as Labour. The Corbyn effect means that Labour’s leadership up and down the land will be scythed-out and replaced if he takes charge, or people will have to undergo a sort of political contortionism to twist their way out, explaining away their devotion to Blairism for the past decade if they are to remain in post. The coming storm of a Corbyn victory will rip the Labour Party in half, and JC’s apparent blindspot on Scotland – Iain Macwhirter points out in his visit to Edinburgh last week neither he nor his audience mentioned it at all – leaves a massive problem for the UK Labour Party.
So there we have it, a new Scottish leader with nothing to say about Corbyn’s agenda and a leader-in-waiting with nothing to say about the issue that has dominated UK politics for a decade. It’s as if they are marching onwards side by side with the incantation: “I have nothing new to say, and this is me saying it. I have nothing, this is me saying it new.”
Into this pretty picture strides (once again) the BFG of Scottish politics, Gordon Brown, once again ‘breaking his silence’. The Herald told us this week that “Gordon Brown is expected to warn of the dangers of backing Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader this weekend amid growing fears among senior figures that victory for the veteran left-winger could split the party” and “Mr Brown is due enter the debate with a speech on the future of the Labour Party at the Southbank Centre in London on Sunday, titled ‘Power for a Purpose’.”
I suspect that, as with Blair, Brown’s intervention will add a few thousand votes to Corbyn’s campaign. John McTernan may have been given permanent status in BBC Scotland broadcasting studios, but the desperation of the shrill voices intoning Blairite orthodoxy and the will to power is becoming more and more stark.
But behind all of these myriad problems facing Labour, red, white or blue is the legacy of Blair and the Iraq war.
The Chilcot Inquiry, which started work in 2009 and was due to report the following year has cost over £10 million. But yesterday we’re told it’s not just delayed massively but it will never really tell us who was responsible and why. In an extraordinary report Christopher Hope writes in the Telegraph: “Ministers, civil servants and senior military figures accused of wrongdoing in the Iraq War inquiry may never be named, prompting accusations that it is being run like a “secret court”. The inquiry, chaired by former mandarin Sir John Chilcot, has admitted its final report will not name anyone who has been sent details of the accusations against them in his draft inquiry report as part of the controversial Maxwellisation process.”
This is a travesty for democracy, but also a simple confirmation for many about how British-style democracy actually works. But it’s also a disaster for Labour. They could have potentially tried to move on after Chilcot (whatever the outcomes and culpability). That’s not going to happen now and all of the resentment and bitterness will remain. The party never really made amends or looked into its own soul after Ed Miliband was elected. Gordon Brown could have done that, but it never happened. Chilcot won’t report and will just confirm to many thousands of people that elite power in Britain is unreformable and Labour are unequipped to do anything about it..
Dugdale is a leader of the northern branch of a party that is dispirited and split and facing an enormous further upheaval in the months ahead. She is on collision course with Corbyn on trident and she is on predicted to lose all of its first past the post seats to the SNP on current polling. With a new left under the Scottish Left Project and a resurgent Scottish Green Party brimming with ideas and new forms and continued dominance of the SNP, you could be forgiven for thinking that yesterdays was Scottish Labour’s wake not its resurrection.