Tom Harris, former MP for Glasgow South, reflects on his and Labour’s journey since May, and sees the bright side.
Well, that happened.
I refer, of course, to the 2015 general election and Labour’s almost total wipeout in Scotland. Just ten years ago, a work of fiction featuring such events would have found difficulty in finding a publisher.
The previous year was without a doubt the most unpleasant 12 months I’ve ever had to endure as an MP or, indeed, as an adult. The referendum campaign was awful, and then, even though we “won”, it didn’t feel like it. And then the long run-up to the general election. Nightmare.
A million weeks, each day knowing I was going to lose, yet still hoping that the polls and pundits might be spectacularly wrong.
Catch-up service: they weren’t.
Losing your seat is like a grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. You know, all that bollocks. I went through most of it and yet, after less than a couple of weeks, it took a comment from my wife, Carolyn, for me to realise exactly what had happened. “You look younger and more relaxed than you have for years.”
It was true. Because it wasn’t just the last couple of years of referendum campaigning that was a miserable experience, it was the last five or even six years. In 2010 I briefly considered stepping down from the Commons voluntarily and doing something else (probably “public affairs” about which I knew very little at the time). The expenses scandal had soured life at Westminster even for those of us who didn’t find ourselves at the centre of a news story about duck houses or moats. Or shelving.
I also knew that we would be in opposition after the general election that year, and that I would hate that. Opposition is a bloody waste of time for any grown man (or woman) to spend their time on. But I bottled it and signed on for another five years. And those five years were even more miserable than I could have anticipated. First there was the election result itself – almost entirely self-inflicted, but hey, that’s the Labour Party for ya! And then there was the leadership election. And Ed Miliband.
But worst of all, a year into the parliament, was the death of David Cairns, my closest friend at Westminster. Just devastating for all of us who knew and loved him. Our landslide defeat by the SNP at the Holyrood elections a few days earlier barely impinged on my consciousness as I waited to hear word from the hospital where he was being treated.
And then the Scottish Labour leadership contest (which was a blast, I must admit) and the announcement by Cameron of a referendum on Scottish independence.
During the general election campaign I was asked by one or two activists if, in the event of my losing in Glasgow South, would I stand again. Absolutely not, I told them. Under no circumstances. I meant it and I won’t be changing my mind. I’ve finally managed to get politics – at least of the elected variety – out of my system.
I’m in a good place. I followed the advice of the estimable Andrew Wilson, the former SNP MSP now heading up Charlotte Street Partners in Edinburgh, and drew a line under my former life by founding my own company, which is doing very well thank you very much.
I still dip my toe into politics by writing a weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) online column for the Telegraph. The only time when I miss the green benches is when I survey the mess that is The Political Party Formerly Known As Labour. The analogy I draw is this: imagine if, following the appalling 1983 defeat to which Michael Foot led us, we elected not Neil Kinnck as leader in his place, but Tony Benn. That’s where we are now. Except things are much worse than that scenario, because Jeremy Corbyn lacks the cabinet experience, intellect and oratorical skills Benn possessed.
So when I consider the inevitable defeats and irrelevance to which Labour Party members condemned themselves by voting for Corbyn in September, I do flirt with the notion that I would love to be back there, arguing and organising for change alongside the sane majority of Labour MPs.
But then I shake myself out of such fantasies and thank God in heaven for the fact that I lost in May, that I have a family who love having me around more, that I no longer have to listen to the complaints of constituents and local party members, and that I don’t have to read tortuous, sanctimonious emails from 38 Bloody Degrees (to give that organisation its full name). In short, I have my life back.
And although I have no intention (for now) of resigning my membership, if Labour is ever to recover from its summer, autumn and winter of madness, it will have to do it without my help.
34 thoughts on “There is, after all, life after politics”
Nice one, Tom. Welcome back to the human race, and thanks for representing it so well as an MP.
Thanks, Peter. Very kind and I appreciate it.
Having backed UKIP to win the by-election, Tom must feel a little miffed this morning.
However, Tom is one of those articulate, affable guys who waltzed into Labour, got a seat and sat back. Did little, yet seems puzzled the electorate dumped him and his chums—-a Party that once bestrode Scotland like a giant. Labour has had its day in Scotland. Had ALL the reins of power for decade after decade, yet did little to grow our economy, no oil fund, no infrastructure for the modern age—-yet people like Tom had imagined all was well. He could look around and see most of local government, most MSPs, most MP’s, most MEP’s, most of the political punditry, BBC Scotland—-all in the control of Scottish Labour, or those sympathetic to them.
What could possibly go wrong? Well, it turns out people could watch TV, and see how the other half were getting on. They wondered, perhaps, why their MP’s weren’t getting them and their children the same social and industrial chances—-especially when steel works closed down, factories disappeared, coal mines closed—where were the new jobs here in Scotland? In fact when the deep mines closed in Ayrshire, instead of replacement industry, we got open cast mining in its place, and up popped one Brian Wilson as a Director of the Scottish Coal Company, with its legacy of huge ecological damage, and a pension fund that wasn’t properly funded.
But I for one wish Tom well. I think he will do far better, and be more usefully employed as a pundit, than he ever was as an MP.
Don’t know where his ex-colleague’s will end up. I doubt if most people could recall the name of two or three of them. That says it all, really. Missed by no one.
Gavin – you want to give the impression that you’re being kind and generous, yet fill your comment with typical nastiness and slurs. A shame. More to the point, you seem under the impression that in economic terms, Scotland is in a different league from the rest of the country. Can voters in the north of England and the Midlands and Wales also not see TV images and see how “the other half” are getting on? Yet they continue to vote Labour (thank goodness). The fact is Scotland did not vote on policy at the general election; it mrely extended the referendum argument into May. Very few people cast their votes because of policy and the SNP did not out-left Labour (or if they did, it made no difference to the decision taken by Scots the previous year to give Labour a kicking). Nicola Sturgeon could have decided she was, after all, in favour of Trident and that, in order to pay for it, she wanted to sell off some Scottish children, and she would still have won.
As for your smear that I did nothing for my constituency, you speak from stupidity and ignorance.
Ah, Tom. Thank you for your prompt reply. Was my comment filled with typical “nastiness and slurs”? It would indeed be a shame were that the case.
No, I don’t think we are in a different economic league from those in the Midlands, the North or Wales, But he economic North/South divide is not a myth. However in your preferred examples, Labour politicians don’t spend all their time threatening their constituents with even greater economic disaster,( because Scotland after 40 years of huge oil revenues, but no infrastructure or industrial investment, is an economic basket case), if they don’t vote only for them. These Labour politicians tend to promise they will fight for them. Don’t forget in Scotland the electorate had a real alternative they could turn to, when the perception was, Labour were “at it” in local and national government. This electoral disaster for Scottish Labour has been a long time in the making, and it is not only Labour who missed the signs, but their many media chums as well.
If Labour had genuinely believed in Scottish Home Rule, and had campaigned for real powers all through the process, then perhaps you would still be a player. However, the Unionist/British Nationalist narrative Labour has employed has proved ruinous from a Scottish perspective.
If I have maligned your many wonderful constituency achievements, then I apologise.
I wrote through stupidity( which I obviously cannot change) and ignorance.
I grovel at you feet, though unworthy.
You are part of the reason we are in this mess. Jeremy Corbyn is doing well: doubling our membership, reversing tax credit cuts, unions reaffiliating, increasing our vote in Oldham. Don’t worry we will recover from the mess people like you got us into, you didn’t contribute much when you are an MP so we won’t miss you now.
Oldham was a Labour hold and being a town close to a large urban area like Manchester, a traditional Labour voting seat.
An increased and enthused membership is important and winning back support from the Unions is great. But trade union membership across the UK peaks at about 35-40% of the workforce even in Scotland and the North of England. In the South it is closer to 25%.
The key to Corbyn’s success is winning support among the mainstream voters in every profession, background and age group. Time will tell and I very much hope he succeeds.
But insulting former MPs probably isn’t a strategy likely to win over floating voters. It just helps Labour’s opponents.
Ex MPs writing derogatory articles about our democratically leader does not help either.
True, fair point. Corbyn won the leadership election fair and square and people need to now get behind him on that.
Alex Ferguson, a great friend and supporter of Labour, was a great believer in keeping most criticism of his players behind closed doors in the dressing room and defending them 100% in public. Perhaps Labour would do well to follow that strategy.
And on behalf of the vast majority of Scotland let me say good riddance to bad rubbish.
I still cant make up my mind who Scotland should vilify the most. Labour or Thatcher.
Glad to hear that Tom Harris has come to terms with the loss of his seat at Westminster and is getting on with his life. Interesting that he does not give us any thoughts on why he lost his seat and why Labour were annihilated at the GE in Scotland. Fascinated as we are about family life in the Harris household I would have thought Tom would have had an opinion regarding The Downfall. Im sure he has, so I’m at loss to understand why Tom is reluctant to share with us. Maybe it is for another day?
Do you want me to give you my thoughts on it? Oh alright then.
Labour in Scotland approached the referendum from totally the wrong angle, as if it, the referendum, was a bloody distraction, a nuisance, and that the whole referendum debate, question and outcome was no more that another challenge to Labor’s rule in Scotland from the nationalists. Labour never saw the historical significance of the referendum. Labour eventually came round to the notion that the referendum was a chance to see off the SNP for good. The rationale at the time was, win a NO vote and the SNP were done for a generation at least.
This was Labour’s first big mistake. No thought was given to Scotland. Even less consideration was given to possible Yes voters that were Labour supporters. Labour had no right to dictate to its supporters how to vote. That arrogance, telling their supporters that they were unionists, that was a big mistake. There were others, but the biggest mistake, (Do you know what I’m going to say Duncan? Of course you do); it was joining the Tories in Better Together. Labour sided with the Tories to defeat the aspirations of the Scottish people and won the referendum. But in doing so Labour has lost a lot. Its lost its soul, its integrity, respect both self and others’, its lost all its MPs bar one, its lost activists, its lost support. In Scotland it could be out of business in six months.
I would be genuinely interested in any thoughts Tom Harris or any others have on this, but I suspect Duncan’s not going to let him read it.
I’ve given my opinion on that on a number of occasions, not least in answer to “gavin” above. However, i also wrote here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/scotland/11870991/Jeremy-Corbyn-cannot-save-Scottish-Labour-from-the-SNP.html
And made similar points in this interview: https://youtu.be/Mt1Qd0fYQs4
Thanks for replying to my comment.
With regard to the loss of your Westminster seat and Labour’s near wipe out in Scotland;
I clicked on the first link you suggest and it would require me to subscribe to The Telegraph on line to read the article. No chance. So I clicked on the second link, a discussion between yourself and Andrew Neil, which I listened to. I am afraid I cannot agree with you, there was no explanation of Labour’s Downfall in Scotland. In the interview your contributions focused on your apprehensions with Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn was not leader of the LP at the GE. So this link does not help me understand your thoughts on Labour’s disaster in Scotland on May 7.
With regard to your reply to Gavin’s comment above, you make the point that Scotland did not vote on policy at the GE, that it (Scotland) extended the vote at the referendum to the GE. You even claim this as a ‘fact’. But Labour won the referendum. So my question is still valid. Why did the Scottish electorate decide to desert Labour, to punish Labour at the GE, for the stance that Labour took on 18th September 2014?
Richard, the Telegraph does not require a subscription to read.
Labour didn’t win the referendum. The No side won the referendum. The reason Tom’s logic works is that the No side’s 55% votes were divided between three major parties, whereas the losing 45% of votes pretty much all went to the SNP. The additional 5% shift, mostly from Labour, gave the SNP their landslide in the general election, in which they won 95% of the seats with 50% of the vote – FPTP in action.
“Losing 45% of votes”. This is interesting on its own.
When the referendum campaign was first mooted, the SNP were about 25% in the polls ( independence was about 30% ), if my memory serves me correctly. So its not just the outcome of the referendum, but the campaign itself which has moved a substantial proportion of the electorate toward the SNP.
The Tories, when they proposed an elected Scottish Assembly ( Declaration of Perth), were in the low 30%s, with a reasonable body of MP’s. When the Unionist end of the Tories rebelled and they reneged on their pledge, their share of the vote dropped and has perhaps bottomed out about 15%. Their vote never came back to them. Will it be the same with the Labour/LibDem lost vote as well?
Labour in Scotland seem to lack any coherent philosophy for electoral support, and until that changes, they will stay stuck in first gear.
Struggling to identify the moment you’re referring to in the phrase “When the referendum campaign was first mooted”. Can you elucidate? Do you mean when the SNP shifted from a policy of UDI to a policy of a referendum? I believe that was in the 1980s at some point? Or do you mean when the SNP proposed a referendum in their 2007 manifesto? They were at 32% at that election, though they never brought forward legislation to hold one. The point when they did actually put their money where their mouths were on a referendum was when they won the 2011 election. They got 45% of the vote in that election.
Tom’s a big boy Duncan, you don’t need to fight his battles. But fair play, Tom’s a busy man tonight and he supports open discussion and I acknowledge and respect that.
Ok I get the figures. But Labour did win the referendum. Why? Because Labour campaigned with all it had for a No vote. Labour was the voice, the heart and soul of Better Together. Yourself and Labour Hame leading the charge. Brown coming over the hill at the last moment.
That is the point of this whole 5 year argument. Labour should have stayed neutral. It was that arrogant stance, that Labour new better what was right for Scotland that has done for you. That is why your party is in the mess it now finds itself. An ancient and proud nation when confronted with such a huge decision does not like to be dictated to. It was a massive wrong call. It needs to be faced up to. Clearly Tom Harris and yourself are still in denial.
Scots are not stupid. All of a sudden Labour embrace free votes. But last year Labour dictated to Scotland.
That is the admission that Tom Harris, you and Scottish Labour will not admit to. It is the crux of the matter. Face up.
What an extraordinary position to adopt. Labour taking a stance on principle against the division of the UK which would have impoverished many of Scotland’s poorest is them “dictating” to Scots, whereas the SNP issuing what its own authors now acknowledge was a dishonest and misleading White Paper to try to push for independence was somehow standing up for Scots? If one side was dictating so was the other. You simply can’t have it both ways.
You are a thinking person and raise some valid points. I will be as comprehensive as possible in answering some of them.
(1) Labour sided with the Tories to defeat the aspirations of the Scottish people – what you should realise is that we live in a pluralist society where differing opinions and aspirations are permitted to co-exist. You need to come out of denial in this respect and accept that the argument and ultimately the vote was won by those holding a different perspective from yourself. But the great thing about the UK democratic process is that you are allowed to continue to persuade those who did not agree with you to change their minds and join you in your aspirations. What you mustn’t do is confuse your aspirations with the aspirations of others.
(2) It wasn’t a mistake to join forces with anyone who wished to see the UK remain just that. Good heavens the YES campaign aligned itself with some strange bedfellows – one morning on the streets of Lenzie after screaming full on at a prominent Labour politician this particular YES campaigner in a quieter moment offered to me that she would like Scotland to be like Hoxha’s Albania, that she was a GP in Ayrshire drew my attention in further although our conversation was drawn to a premature end by her partner hustling her away before she revealed too much – just like Hoxha’s Albania, actually. She was a member of Radical Independence.
On the streets of Blantyre the leader of the Labour Party was met with “Scotland is for the Scottish” by a YES supporter who turned up again a few weeks later in the centre of Glasgow to voice his brand and vision of Scotland. I’m sure you don’t, Richard, share these extreme aspirations that you think were thwarted.I don’t want to live in an inward focussed country that is not welcoming of those who are not Scottish, whatever the term Scottish means.
The YES campaign was used and is still being used by Left opportunists who once were Stalinist, then Trotskyist and now apparently Nationalists – I’m confident you would want no part of that rabble. And anyway the SNP hardly have an unblemished history in terms of collaboration with differing opinions.
(3) The referendum was not a bloody distraction but was a brutal and bruising [literally] period. I doubt anyone thought it would see off the SNP for good unless you have hard evidence to the contrary.
Let me leave you with this thought, Richard, through the passage of time the decision to remain in the UK seems like a sound one based on sensible judgements by a wide cross-section of the population – are you aware that for the first time in my lifetime [considerable] it is now possible to leave school at the statutory age without a formal qualification in key core subjects? That the SNP administration is overseeing this unfolding catastrophe may be one example of why after staring into the abyss the people of Scotland rejected your narrow insular aspirations.
Ronnie thanks for taking the time to reply to my comment.
1. I accept the result of the referendum. I never believed Yes was going to win. Although I worked hard for a Yes result I always thought the silent No vote was going to be too strong.
2. You are of course correct that Labour were entitled to join forces with other unionist parties to fight against independence. My point here is that the consequence of doing so has been very damaging for Labour in Scotland. Unionists within the Party in Scotland may consider the the result was worth the damage to the party. That is for Labour to decide. There is another important point here that Tom Harris, Duncan and yourself do not seem to understand. maybe I haven’t explained it properly. It is that Labour in Scotland call themselves Scottish Labour. They see themselves as a Scottish party. I believe that Labour in Scotland should therefore have stayed neutral at the referendum as did the STUC. Labour should have recognised that within its support there were those that would vote Yes. Now this point is the crux of the matter. Duncan chooses to ignore this crucial issue. The fact is many Labour supporters voted Yes and because Labour was so strident in its support for No those once Labour supporters have been lost to the Labour Party and will never go back. Had Labour recognised their support were both Yes voters and No voters and acknowledged their right to their opinion then I believe the Labour Party would not be in the mess it is now in. Ask your self, what right did Labour have to tell its supporters how they should vote?
Tom Harris’ explanation to near wipe out at the GE is that the May 7 vote was just an extension to the referendum vote. I say it is far more complex than that and Labour needs to try an understand this.
3. As you say the referendum was not a bloody distraction. I agree with you. But read my comment again I never said it was. I said when the referendum was called after the SNPs out right win in 2011, Labour treated it as a distraction, as a bloody nuisance. Labour never understood the significance of the referendum and in my opinion they still don’t.
Your silence is deafening.
Good point, well made.
I speak as someone who is a floating voter as I don’t like to nail my colours to one mast but mostly voted Labour through the 1997-2010 glory years.
The great shame about the 2015 general election result in Scotland was both Labour and the Lib Dems and for that matter Scotland lost some high calibre and experienced MPs, of which Tom Harris was definitely one. I don’t always agree with your point of view but they are always thoughtfully made.
Hope you enjoy your new career.
Thank you drew. Appreciated.
Fair play to you Tom, i’d still be hiding up the Campsie Fells if I was you.
Let’s face this wasn’t the first complete disaster if you know Scottish Labour history.
See the 1931 election and voters in the Gorbals and Bridgeton turning to the ILP rather than voting for the official LP.
Less than a couple of days ago Labour MPs were given a free vote.
Would a free vote have been the end of the world in the referendum.
How do you lose some of the safest seats in the UK?
Why did you turn on your on your own voters?
I’m still getting over the shock of the of making the mistake of telling my ex Labour MP i was thinking of voting YES.
My MP turned on me on par with me breaking into his house and assaulting his family.
It was actually worse than that.
This is somebody i’d known for years.
If you felt angry, how do think thousands of us (still) feel.
Graham – i accept that former Labour voters who were persuaded to vote yes still feel angry at Labour – and that supports my theory about why Labour was wiped out in Scotland. But there was absolutely nothing stopping any Labour MP or MSP from supporting the Yes side if they wanted. the point is, none of us wanted to. We genuinely wanted No to win. So we didn’t, as you put it “turn on our own voters” – we genuinely felt (and we were right) that a Yes vote would have left Scotland and its citizens worse off. Maybe we were wrong (we weren’t) and maybe we were right (you guessed it) but if someone genuinely believes that a particular course of action will be damaging to someone, we try to persuade them out of that course of action. Your comment actually highlights the problem in Scottish politics quite well: many of those who voted yes are simply unwilling otr unable to even understand why anyone would argue against them. Which is why so many of you attribute false and malicious motives to us. You will never accept this but it’s true: the No campaign contained just as many patriotic Scots who want the best for their country as did the Yes campaign.
What nation has ever been left worse off as a direct result of gaining its own autonomy Tom?
I can only name one potentially who would end up worse off by autonomy and that is England because it would lose its absolute control over the rUK and actually end up being smaller in every sense of the word.
I truly don’t believe that anybody with intelligence actually believes that a Nation State such as Scotland could possibly be worse off at any level with its own autonomy and those politicians who pretend to only do so because being part of the political structure of the union is a greater personal benefit than being part of a smaller political structure.
Given the choice I bet every pro union MSP would prefer to be an MP in Westminster because of its greater access to a greater gravy train and chances of advancement to the ultimate goal the House of Lords or a directorship of some large London corporation.
You cant fail to notice how under represented Scotland is within Westminster you certainly cant fail to notice that every pro union party Scots MP has to follow the London controlled party whip on every issue which is dominated by the needs and overall wants of its greater English representation if he wants a career within that party at all.
So when people like you tell us you actually believe the utter shite you spew you of course realise as we all do that it comes with zero credibility and conviction.
Mr Harris’s piece is so heartwarming isn’t it, a man involved in something so much to his detriment that as soon as he is relieved of that burden his life blossoms. It’s all so human. Then I had a look at the Telegraph article. Although not entirely disagreeing with the analysis of why Labour lost so badly in Scotland I would have liked to have seen some attempt to explain why the Scottish electorate believed Labour didn’t have Scotland’s interest at heart. However the real nature of the beast is shown in the casual, insulting reference to Jeremy Corbyn as “the Islington Messiah”. Sour grapes from a sore loser.
Tom, if you don’t mind, do you think Johann Lamont got the last laugh?
I am a bit disappointed to read that Tom thought he was wasting his time as an opposition MP.Surely if he was doing his job properly and working for his constituents he wouldn’t have felt he was wasting his time.If he felt that way he should have resigned and let someone more enthusiastic have a go.
If a poll were to be conducted throughout Scotland on how people recognise Tom Harris I will bet over 90% of them will say its because of his contributions via Twitter rather than his work as an MP. The other 10% will say Tom who?
I only know of the existence of Tom Harris because of Twitter and only because of the utter controversial garbage he posted which was picked up and laid bare by the online pro Independence media.
A total non entity as an MP who gained notoriety through a propensity to controversial online blogging.
I will bet he also has a very shameful voting record.
Prove me wrong if you can Tom.
“Losing your seat is like a grieving process: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. You know, all that bollocks.”
Tom sorry to say the former is a bit over the top politics is all about elections winning and losing therefore I think that if you believe what you said then you like all the other Scottish Labour MPs had taken the electorate for granted and that is the reason why you had these feelings. I would have had some sympathy with you had you been an ordinary run of the mill Joe Public going out to work for minimum wage but as an MP you were getting plenty of corn expenses and a good pension to boot so I would expect you to be happy. Anyway I think you have made a wise decision giving politics a body swerve as the way things are at present with Labour there is no road back so I wish you all the best of luck in whatever you choose to do.
I’m glad you are happier now Tom. It’s always fun to read the opinions of those who are no longer ‘in the system’ – be that from any industry.
The Labour party in Scotland should never had done as badly as they did in the last GE, but that’s down to the terrible FPTP system we use. The fact that we have three non SNP MPs is madness when you look at the actual voting figures. The public had a chance to at least make a small step towards fixing in 2011 it but we bottled it.
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