28 July 2008

Labour: the Race Begins

Cathy Jamieson has stood down as Deputy Leader of Labour in the Scottish Parliament, triggering a contest there, which Margaret Curran may be thinking of entering.

But here are my predictions for the Leadership:

For Labour, my message is this: don't underestimate Cathy Jamieson. Iain Gray is too close to Gordon Brown, who is a dead man walking. Andy Kerr is too close to Jack McConnell, who is a dead man walking out. Jamieson is seen as the most left-wing of the three front-runners, which will be a bonus with Trade Unionists and a fair slice of the remaining party members.

And in my book, she's actually the best candidate. Seriously.

Gray's name is highly appropriate, and as his interview on Newsnight over the independence referendum showed, he's not necessarily the most gifted communicator in English. He reckons he's a good communicator in French or Portuguese. Which is of strictly limited use in the current contest. But there's no X-factor and he's got the most ties to the current UK Government, which is in considerable political difficulties. That means that he'll get steamrollered at FMQs on a regular basis.

Kerr is tied to some of the least possible decisions of the last Executive - hospital cutbacks, and you can bet your bottom dollar that if he gets the Leadership, that will get thrown at him week after week. I can already see me, sitting at my computer in 2011, typing this line: "Andy Kerr wanted to close your hospital; now he wants to run the country". Not a sound position. Besides, Kerr's default setting is confrontation, which would come in handy for FMQs were it not for the fact that confrontation is also Alex Salmond's default setting for partisan, parliamentary occasions, the First Minister has been engaged in it for far longer, and frankly, is better at it. Kerr will try and take the fight to the FM, and will put in the required amount of effort and energy, but on paper, you expect a Salmond victory most of the time.

Charlie Gordon has the most executive experience of the candidates - running Scotland's biggest city - but is forever tainted with Wendygate. Plus which, he spent most of Jack McConnell's Leadership mouthing off about challenging him because Labour needed a contest. But the contest never came and he even supported the only candidate in last year's Leadership Election rather than forcing the vote that he claimed to want. The man has too much mouth, too little substance, too many enemies and too many skeletons.

Ken McIntosh probably can't even get the required number of nominations, so doesn't count.

Cathy Jamieson, on the other hand, is a curious contender: firstly, she benefits from being neither Gray nor Kerr, so could draw tactical support from either camp's supporters to keep the other in third place. She'll also get either of their second preferences as she's not the other one. She'll also get a decent backing from the left of the party. And despite being Deputy Leader for so long, she represents the closest thing to a fresh start: Gray will be a continuation of the Brown/Alexander wing of the party which has dominated for so long; Kerr was seen as Jack McConnell's closest lieutenant. Jamieson could, if she has the personality to take the Party (or at least her MSPs) with her, go in a new direction. And at FMQs, expect a new tack that Labour haven't yet tried and is possibly their biggest shot at success: she'll suck the politics out of it. Look at her performance standing in for Wendy Alexander: she wasn't the loudest, she didn't have a soundbite, but she went on an important issue where it's hard to be partisan, put forward a reasonable line that was impossible to disagree with, and stayed relatively measured throughout. She sounded more credible than either Jack McConnell or Wendy Alexander have ever managed against the FM, who was forced to engage on her terms rather than on his. She's a quiet operator but that has done her no harm.

What I'm saying is: don't underestimate Cathy Jamieson.

She is the dark horse, and she could surprise people.


David Russell said...

Absolutely first rate commentary on the candidates for leadership. I completely agree that Cathy Jamieson is the strongest of the candidates so far. Judging from her performance at FMQs standing in for the silenced Wendy Alexander right before the resignation, Jamieson would put up more of a fight against the SNP than Wendy ever could. Let's just hope Team Jamieson have learned vicariously not to accept any dodgy donations...

Scott @ loveandgarbage said...

I followed Jamieson's ministerial career closely, as her job involved various topics relevant to my areas of work. A number of matters seemed by-passed from Justice to other portfolios to avoid having her run them (it appeared) - even though judging by the names present at the Parliament committee meetings for Stage 1 and Stage 2 it was Justice Department officials that were in attendance and consequently running them, or they were topics that had been dealt with by Justice until Jamieson took over and then the same civil servant appeared to be working in new teams in new departments. Now, was this a First minister, wishing to share work out - to ensure that the Justice Minister was not swamped with topics as Jim Wallace was in the first session; a civil service deciding that politically matters would best be handled by other departments and committees to ease the path through Parliament; or was it an acknowledgement (from the first minister or civil service) that she was out of her depth, and unable to get to grips with the legislation she was due to promote?

I know where my money is.

Will said...

Scott, I have to admit you have a point - as I read your comment, I recalled reading back in 2001, on her appointment as Education Minister, that she would pass the running of policy on Schools to her Deputy, Nicol Stephen.

Having said that, you look at the alternatives and their record - Andy Kerr's confusion of "efficiency" and "reduction"; Iain Gray's ham-fisted attempts to put forward the Labour view in the first year of Opposition, through abstentions and incomprehensible interviews. There is little else on other that suggests a strong First Ministerial candidate among Labour's ranks.

While Kerr will go for the shrill attack dog approach that would see him oppose for the sake of it anything put forward by the SNP, and Gray is the most likely of the candidates to await clearance from the UK Leadership before clearing his throat, Jamieson looks like she can put the broad case across, and ask a decent question.

My guess is that Jamieson is the one who will make the Party feel better about itself. A viable FM? Perhaps not. But out of the possible contenders, she is the most likely to bring the self-destruction of Labour to a stop. That is her strongest card.

boxthejack said...

Completely agreed Will. With Margaret Curran sacrificed on the Glasgow East pyre, Jamieson is the only credible candidate left... which, as Scott points out, is a pretty sorry state of affairs for Labour.