After a day enduring the speeches at the 2013 Labour Party Conference in Brighton, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that Jim Murphy MP, the shadow Defence Secretary, is the sole saving grace in Ed Miliband’s weak shadow cabinet.
Aside from the much-heralded rollout of a redundant proposal to specifically criminalise attacking a member of the armed forces, his speech – delivered without notes or teleprompter – was the best thing of the day:
Murphy rightly calls out the current government for their mistakes in defence policy, and though Labour’s record in this area is hardly stellar, he manages to land some punches that will hurt the Tories and which should give them serious pause for reflection as to their own conservative priorities and supposed natural affinity with the armed forces.
In so doing, he also managed to tick off an impressive list of Labour policies and pledges, as yet unmatched by the Tories, which would naturally appeal to service members and their families.
Legal aid and entitlements for veterans.
In-service education for serving troops.
Codifying the armed forces bill of rights in the Labour Party rule book.
Denouncing the decision to make tens of thousands of experienced veterans redundant while expecting their roles to be backfilled by reservists in the TA.
Mocking the lamentable fact that Britain’s new aircraft carriers will enter service years before the jets capable of flying from them.
Rightly calling out the government for failing to address the disastrously bloated and inefficient defence procurement system.
In their zealousness (but not effectiveness) to reduce Britain’s budget deficit and roll back the size of the state, the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government has undeniably weakened Britain’s armed forces and military readiness, and Jim Murphy did well to draw blood on all of these points.
It is still a bit rich for Labour to try to seize the mantle of being the party of the armed forces, but Jim Murphy is a talented and competent politician with an obvious affection for and affinity with the military. He may not have owned up to Labour’s own past failings in the defence sphere – no one in the shadow cabinet has managed to do that – but he is no dove, and he clearly has his eye on the future.
Based on his recent performance, Jim Murphy would be a solid pick for the Labour party leadership after Ed Miliband has finished leading them into electoral oblivion.
The Conservative party should watch and beware.