Saturday, 21 July 2012

The politics of preferment and patronage. Again.

Something of an unintended irony in Gerry Hassan's Scotsman article this morning, presumably. He uses the death of Labour activist and convener of the former pressure group Scottish Labour Action Bob McLean to highlight a "group of similar minded Labour people who were contemptuous of old Labour, prepared to do something about it, and stand for a very different kind of politics" and contrasts that with the current: "Age of the leader as the font of wisdom and political acumen [that] has not exactly served politics well. It has hollowed out political parties, reduced party conferences to impressive looking backdrops, and resulted in the two big British parties being extensions of corporate power and Murdoch court manoeuvrings."

But the limited influence of the likes of the SLA in challenging old Labour is ironically highlighted by today's story about former Labour MSP Tom McCabe being appointed to a nice little £50k earner as a Glasgow City Council policy adviser. That's Labour-controlled Glasgow City Council, of course, and McCabe was heavily involved in Labour fighting off the local SNP challenge in May's local elections. Indeed, Gez claims that an SLA-influenced Labour would: "Demand after decades of Labour quangocracy, the highest standards of public life; post-New Labour it would not allow former ministers such as John Reid to use the “revolving door” to take lucrative contracts with the like of G4S and retain the party whip."

So no change there then (apart from the involvement of the private sector in the case of John Reid), with perhaps the only question being whether McCabe's appointment is symptomatic of new or old Labour. Er, perhaps it's simply Labour.

Anyway, Gez continues, lamenting the influence of the likes of Rupert Murdoch on UK politics, and adds: "It has done this and changed the mindset of the young party member, from one of idealism and public service to the politics of the extended state and networks with all preference and advancement centred on researchers, advisers and a world of patronage and preferment."

Which sort of brings to mind Dundee's SNP group and in particular May's local elections, when of course the party took outright control of the council.

As an independent candidate in that election I was interested to note that candidates were only allowed one 'guest' at the count, along with a couple of election agents. Thus as an independent who did all his own form-filling and as a single person who had no one obvious individual guest to invite I decided to go on my lonesome.

But what in my naivety surprised me was the presence at the count of Dundee's parliamentarians who had no obvious formal link to the council candidates - apart of course from all being members of the Dundee SNP bubble - namely MP Stewart Hosie, MSPs Shona Robison and Joe Fitzpatrick for the SNP, and MSP Jenny Marra for Labour, all of whom I assume were named as agents of some kind so they could turn up and support their pals. And support they did: I recall when an SNP gain was announced one of their parliamentarians celebrated with more exuberance than I suspect the average Olympic gold medallist will muster next month!

Anyway, what was particularly interesting in view of Gerry Hassan's latter statement was how quite a few of Dundee's new councillors were/are assistants/researchers to the SNP's parliamentarians, no doubt at taxpayers' expense. So merely by dint of their SNP membership they're effectively subsidised into another nice little earner in the guise of elected councillor, and no doubt some of them could end up as MPs (sic!) or MSPs.

Which in a small way confirms that what Gerry Hassan said about Labour and the Tories at the UK level will increasingly be replicated by the SNP if they consolidate their power base in Scottish politics, even assuming they don't win independence. To repeat: "It has done this and changed the mindset of the young party member, from one of idealism and public service to the politics of the extended state and networks with all preference and advancement centred on researchers, advisers and a world of patronage and preferment."

And of course regarding what Gezza says about the malign Murdoch-esque influence on UK politics in relation to "the two big British parties", Alex Salmond's attempts to replicate this in Scotland are now well documented.

Indeed, as I pointed out last year Labour's similarly cronyist influence on Dundee's politics continues in the shape of Ms Marra, who was elected from nowhere (aka the Holyrood list system) and whose views on such subjects as the state of the city's tennis courts and females not being allowed to join a pub domino team are now dutifully reported by the local media. And which I find particularly ironic as a resident of a murderous/drunken area where police only turn up after the event, given that Ms Marra is supposedly some kind of Labour "community safety" (which sounds suspiciously like a euphemism reserved for crime-ridden areas) spokesperson in the Scottish Parliament.

And irony after irony, because I strongly suspect the first commenter to this Better Nation post about weemen and equality, who claimed that Ms Marra "should declare an interest, as she is where she is today because of a 'zipped list' system", is none other than one of Dundee SNP's aforementioned preferred group of party researchers turned councillors. And who also said: "I have a female constituency MSP – she is utterly brilliant. Wouldn’t change her for the world; but she is there on merit, not gender." Er, no, whatever her undoubted talents I suspect she's been elected to public office because of the SNP label, just like, I suspect, the commenter himself.

Indeed, would he, his "utterly brilliant" MSP and Ms Marra have gotten anywhere standing as independents? Almost certainly not; perhaps a bit further than yours truly, but in the grand scheme of things absolutely nowhere. And as for MSPs being where they are because of the 'zipped list' system, the SNP's Joan McAlpine, anyone?

To quote Gerry Hassan: "It has done this and changed the mindset of the young party member, from one of idealism and public service to the politics of the extended state and networks with all preference and advancement centred on researchers, advisers and a world of patronage and preferment."

Er, have I used that quote three times now?!? Of course, the SNP haven't quite plumbed the malign depths that West of Scotland Labour has over the past few decades, but gie them time!


Grahamski said...

There is a simple solution to this: don't let any individual serve for any more than two terms in an elected position. I've argued this for over thirty years in the Labour Party. I can count on one finger how much support I've had for my cunning plan...

Anonymous said...

Yes Grahamski that would solve the problem of Labour being unelectable in Scotland now like the Tory's and the refusal of major Joyce Labour MP to resign after being found guilty of assault and head butting, drunk driving and his boasting about it on TV and his predilection for very young schoolgirls. labour, rotten to the core.

Allan said...

I really should get a hold of a copy of "Animal Farm", particularaly as your post has reminded me once again of the last line...

On the news regarding Mr Loraine Davidson, it does rather show that despite the clearout instigated by Mr Matheson prior to the council elections, "Scottish" Labour at local level in the west of Scotland retain a lot of their "Municipalist" tendancies.

Barbarian of the North said...

Power corrupts.

Politics is corrupt, patronage is what counts, rather than ability.

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Stuart Winton said...

Thanks for the comments; needless to say I'm inclined to agree most with Allan's and Barbarian's more general analyses, but can't really disagree with the general thrust of Grahamski's and Anon's points either.

Allan, I'd forgotten about the Lorraine Davidson connection, but according to Wikipedia she's been in a relationship with an MEP for 10 years. Labour, naturally. Small world, innit?

I like the term 'municipalist' though; particularly if it's regarded euphemistically!!