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.
- 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?
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.