Tuesday, 18 May 2010

(Life) time in opposition

I read with interest Jeff's post yesterday, pointing out the truthfulness in Liam Byrne's joke of a note left to his successor David Laws.  "Sorry, there's no money left" was the gist - and accurate too, as Labour left office having racked up a deficit of £163 BILLION.  

And I agree with Jeff's assessment (to an extent):  "New" (for how much longer?) Labour remains right-of-centre, talking about immigration instead of social justice.  But Labour got whacked not for being right-of-centre, but for trying to be both right-of-centre and left-of-centre at the same time, resulting in a deficit Robert Mugabe would be delighted with.

But Jeff's conclusion - that in order to re-establish themselves Labour must ditch New Labour and return to their left-wing roots - is one that I think history teaches is one which will not be overly successful.

Evidence?  Here:

  • In 1979, Labour lost a general election to the Tories, the first of four consecutive election defeats.  They did so on the back of the "Winter of Discontent" - union strikes on the back of Labour economic policy.

  • In 2010, Labour lost a general election (and who knows if it will be the first of four or more defeats) to a Tory (and Lib Dem) government on the back of an economic mess - partly (if I'm being fair) brought about by Labour economic policy.

  • In 1979, Labour MPs believed that the party needed time in opposition in order to re-establish the party and examine what it stood for.

  • In 2010, Labour MPs and former MPs - including David Blunkett, John Reid, Andy Burnham, Dianne Abbott and Tom Harris and many more besides - argued against a "progressive coalition"/ "coalition of the losers" in favour of the Labour party leaving the Tories to govern and taking time to work out where Labour could go next.

  • In 1983, the general election immediately following 1979, Labour lurched to the left under Micheal Foot, producing a manifesto dubbed "The Longest Suicide Note in History" which saw the party take a drubbing at the polls, polling just 27% of the vote - only 2% ahead of the Alliance.

  • In 2015, Labour will have the opportunity to repeat that mistake.  And it would be a mistake... but what choice do they have?
Obviously this is a simplistic historical comparison, but you get the point.  As I've written before, I think the Tory-Lib Dem government is here for the foreseeable future, for several reasons:  any potential change to AV (or STV) will only increase their potential majority and the fixed term parliaments indicate an intention to work cohesively together for the long term.  But mainly, my reason for seeing this last is the lack of a real alternative.

Look at it this way.  Labour's economic plans have been discredited - who leaves office with a deficit of £163 billion for others to clear up?  (Incidentally, they did the same - though not quite to the same level - at council level in Aberdeen and Edinburgh).  And what charismatic leader do they have coming in to restore faith in the party and their goals?  Ed or David Milliband?  Ed Balls?  Andy Burnham?  Jon Cruddas?!  There's no John Smith or Tony Blair there.

No, Labour were right to prepare for opposition.  It's just not clear that they'll ever need to prepare for government again.


Doug Daniel 18 May 2010 at 19:03  

I don't think history is on their side. Before the recent election, there had been six UK governments in 59 years, giving an average of about 10 years per government. But take out the 15 years between 1964 and 1979 when the government changed three times, and you're looking at an average of 15 years per government. Add to that the fact that those 60s/70s elections were generally fought between two parties sticking by their leaders even in defeat, and the signs aren't good for Labour. Then again, the parliamentary majority is more akin to the 60s/70s parliaments, so perhaps it depends on whether the next Labour leader is a Wilson or a Callaghan.

One thing baffles me: are there actually people out there who think Ed Balls is anything other than a loathsome, boorish oaf? Surely Labour would be signing their own death warrant if he gets the nod.

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