By Brian Wilson
Labour is back in the game. For the first time in over a decade, the party has a leader who is electable as Prime Minister.
That is the first, intangible barrier to clear. “Electability” is a subjective term but you know it when you see it. Ed Miliband and Jeremy Corbyn were unelectable; just as Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard were for the Tories not that long ago.
Being electable, of course, does not mean a party will be elected. It is a prerequisite rather than a guarantee. However, it creates an entirely different environment when both your own supporters and, just as important, opponents take the prospect seriously.
Keir Starmer has made an impressive start. I particularly liked the appointment of Annelise Dodds as Shadow Chancellor, an Aberdonian who has come across very well in the limited exposure hitherto allowed.
Ironically, Labour does not have enough “firsts” on gender equality so it is a bonus that Ms Dodds is the first woman to become either Chancellor or Shadow Chancellor. That will change the dynamic of the dispatch box.
Another appointment I like is Lisa Nandy as Shadow Foreign Secretary. From my semi-detached vantage point, I did not know much about her before the leadership contest but found her increasingly impressive as it progressed.
Pedigree matters. It is mildly reassuring to have a leader called Keir while Ms Nandy’s own capabilities chime with the fact her father, Dipak Nandy is a highly respected figure who essentially wrote Labour’s transformational Race Relations Act of 1976.
Huge numbers of voters will take another look at Labour but it will be a long, hard haul. When abnormal times are over, there will still be several years before a General Election and every day will need to spent on repairing the reputational damage.
It was entirely right that Keir Starmer started where that damage was most obscene – apologizing unreservedly to the Jewish community. It remains almost beyond belief to many of us that Labour, largely thanks to the £3 revolutionaries who had flocked to the Corbyn banner, had become host to such poison.
Not only the results but the margins signify real change. Indeed, one is bound to wonder where all those who voted for the Corbyn ticket just a few years ago have gone? Hopefully they have found a new and less harmful hobby.
I remember in the mid-80s the doughty MP, Gwyneth Dunwoody, commissioning a map for distribution at a Labour conference which showed how few red dots there were over huge swathes of the country. It was intended as notice of the long fight-back that would be required.
A current map of Scotland would be a particularly cheerless corrective for anyone with Labour sympathies. The party holds precisely one Westminster seat and three constituencies at Holyrood. The Miliband/Corbyn years took the party from 42 to 18.5 per cent at General Elections in Scotland.
The elevation of Ian Murray, excluded by the spiteful Corbynites, as Shadow Secretary of State, provides a powerful and respected voice. So too does the election of Jackie Baillie as deputy leader of the Scottish party. There is an opportunity, but no more than that.
Incidentally, the McCluskey union, Unite, block booked over 8000 Scottish members as “affiliates” of the Labour Party in the run-up to voting. Most of them, I suspect, had no idea why they were being asked to vote in a Labour election. Anyway, Unite could have saved its members’ money – Ms Baillie won in all sections of the poll.
The Scottish leader, Richard Leonard, was washed in with the Corbynite tide which has now receded. He was a good trade union official and a diligent MSP but his leadership ratings are consistently dire. He now has to consider what can change that in the run-up to Holyrood elections next year.
At very least, he must surely look around the not very crowded room of Labour MSPs and give the best of them key roles. Labour has a window of opportunity but if the shutters remain drawn in Scotland, that moment will soon pass.
SHORTER MONOLOGUES AND CLOSER SCRUTINY REQUIRED AT STURGEON BRIEFINGS
Experience now suggests that the Scottish Government’s daily briefings should involve shorter monologues and much wider-ranging scrutiny.
In the Chief Medical Officer debacle, it was only when questions were allowed that the whole front rapidly unravelled. Whatever Dr Calderwood’s transgressions, no non-politician should have been exposed to that humiliation.
These briefings should provide clear supplementary information within devolved areas, including the NHS. We then need searching questions which require answers.
The medical people are well qualified to elucidate within their professional field which should leave politicians to be grilled on policy and implementation – both on health-related matters where clear public concern exists but also on the wider fall-out.
No government is omnipotent or is expected to be. They need challenged and there are plenty examples of why this is overdue on economic implications.
Early on, huge confusion was caused when the Prime Minister spoke of “essential travel to work” which Ms Sturgeon translated as “travel to essential work”. They are not the same thing and there was urgent need for clarification which never arrived.
One substantial employer e-mailed me this week: “Everyone in England (competitors) keep working away delivering for our customers when we can’t, and I strongly suspect those in Holyrood are blissfully unaware”. They are far from alone.
Then, as highlighted here last week, there is real anger about funding for retail businesses being diverted, contrary to what MSPs were told. Half of Scottish businesses say they could go bust by July. Yet there is no minister with economic responsibility at these briefings.
We need clarity and accountability. That requires hard questioning on every aspect and these briefings are the only current forum through which that could be delivered.