May 18: Labour falls into disarray

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THE NOTION that Jim Murphy, who only took over the leadership of the Scottish Labour Party five months ago, was responsible for Labour’s catastrophic election defeat north of the border is an absurdity which only highlights the problems Labour is having in coming to terms with Britain’s new political reality.

No one has done more for the Labour cause in Scotland – nor, arguably, for the cause of unionism – than Mr Murphy, who has shown courage and dedication in the way he has stood up to Scottish nationalism.

Yet it is a measure of Labour’s failings that its best and brightest politicians are being allowed to fall by the wayside as the party tries to establish its future direction.

Mr Murphy’s resignation, after alleged bullying by the Unite union, follows the withdrawal from the leadership race of Chuka Umunna, who was struggling to gain sufficient support in the party.

Yet, considering that Mr Umunna was perhaps best placed to help Labour appeal to the middle classes and the business community whose support is so desperately needed, where does that leave the party?

Andy Burnham bills himself as the “change” candidate, but the only thing he seems to have changed is his own views as he has moved from being a Blairite moderniser to someone who can talk about nothing other than the Conservatives’ (non-existent) plans to privatise the NHS.

And while Yvette Cooper does at least seem to have grasped that Labour’s problem in its supposed northern heartlands such as Yorkshire is losing voters to the UK Independence Party, no leader is going to take Labour back to power without winning the support of Conservative voters.

Are the likes of Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh or Tristram Hunt capable of doing this? Not unless they can achieve the formidable task of uniting their fractious party, facing down the trade unions and other voices of the past and rebuilding Labour firmly on the centre ground of politics.

Until that happens, the party will struggle to provide a decent opposition, let alone start dreaming about forming a new government.

Holiday tragedy: Final insult by Thomas Cook to grieving family

THE REVELATION that Thomas Cook received a huge compensation payout, following the deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning of Christi and Bobby Shepherd in Corfu, adds cruel insult to terrible injury for the children’s grieving family.

If reports are correct that the money received by the holiday firm amounted to £3.5m, this is 10 times more than the compensation given to Christi and Bobby’s parents. And while no amount of money could compensate the family for their appalling loss, the payout to Thomas Cook is a manifest injustice.

Of course, Thomas Cook is not responsible for the way in which these levels of compensation were calculated. But, considered alongside its refusal to answer any questions during the recent inquest and its reluctance to say sorry to the family (although it is now reported that chief executive Peter Fankhauser has sent a belated apology), it is clear that Christi and Bobby’s family have been treated very badly indeed.

In giving a verdict of unlawful killing, it should be remembered, the inquest jury said that Thomas Cook had breached its duty of care.

To discover now, therefore, that the firm claimed for this level of compensation, including the costs of media advisors to protect its reputation, is to confirm all previous impressions of Thomas Cook’s shameful attitude to this terrible tragedy.

Green is good: Get Britain gardening again

IT IS ironic that, as events such as Chelsea Flower Show become ever more popular, the number of gardens which actually grow flowers, or feature any kind of greenery at all, is dwindling.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, almost a quarter of Britain’s front gardens are now paved over entirely, the number rising by more than three million in the last 10 years.

It is a depressing comment on our increasingly busy lives and growing remoteness from nature that fewer and fewer households have the time to spend on gardening. And considering the increased flooding risk caused by the lack of run-off for rainwater and the inevitable impoverishment of the nation’s wildlife, the trend for concrete and paving-stone carries some serious implications.

So it is to be hoped that the RHS’s campaign to boost the amount of greenery in gardens is a successful one. It is time to put a stop to the grey advance and get Britain gardening again.