Subjective Objectivity – The Blog of The Reasonable Man

August 26, 2010

The Labour Leadership Contest: A Cure in search of a Diagnosis

Filed under: Uncategorized — mikeshotgun @ 1:40 pm

It occurs to me that Labour partisans have no earthly clue why their party lost in May. In fact, they don’t seem to think they lost at all. Guys like Larry Elliot in today’s Guardian article he seems to assume that 2010 was just a protest vote:

The party’s problem in May was New Labour ideological baggage encumbering its interventionist message. Many voted for Clegg because they thought the Lib Dems were the radical left-of-centre option, and it would be easy – and pleasurable – for Labour to highlight this egregious folly. But the folly would be Labour’s if it saw this as a substitute for a social democratic narrative that makes more sense to voters than the coalition’s unpleasant cocktail of born-again monetarism and regressive social policies.

What? No. By what unearthly logic does anyone come to the conclusion that the Lib Dems were the radical left-of-centre option? The way the polls cut, they were a party for people who couldn’t bring themselves to vote for either Labour, but were in no way prepared to countenance the Tories. (Also, pet peeve – none but the constituents in Sheffield Hallam voted for Nick Clegg.) 

Elliot’s basic reasoning is flawed. He seems to assume that but for the “New” in New Labour, Labour would have resumed their rightful place as the majority party in Westminster. But Labour’s popularity in 1997 was due to actual liberal elements in their agenda (let’s call this “Blairism”), and their abandonment of their heavy handed statist tendencies (let’s call this “Brownism”). It was a return to the latter that put off a lot of people. Everyone seems to forget that Tony Blair was a pretty popular guy notwithstanding Iraq, his single biggest mistake. Had that blunder not occured, we would have seen an actual once-in-a-generation political realignment. But with the Global War on Terror in full swing for most of the past nine years, the Labour party reverted to its statist tendencies and gutted civil liberties. It also became lazy, stupid and corrupt as all parties do after 13 years in power. The public became tired of all this, not because the Labour grandees threw Keynes and Beveridge under a bus.

Of course, people may say “But Pete, Labour could have been super ultra-left wing in 1997 and still would have won! It was a repudiation of the Tory party, not a vindication of the Third Way”. Well fine, reasonable men can differ on that. But there’s a point I keep making and no one else seems to ever address. In their 1997 landslide loss the Conservative Party garnered just over 30% of the vote. In 2010, Labour sank to 29% of the vote. So if the Tories were repudiated in 1997, you better believe the same notion obtains to the Labour party’s fortune 13 years later.

Hacks like Elliot and Polly Toynbee seemed to believe that the popular support Labour enjoyed for over a decade was in spite of the “New Labour ideological baggage”, when in fact it was because of it. The Tories post-97 made exactly the same mistake, assuming that they hadn’t been fire-breathing and Euro-sceptic enough, when in fact it was relative moderacy of John Major that saved their asses in 1992.

You see, once people entered the 90s, they were just fucking tired of ideological war. After all, they’d just narrowly averted the one that was a supposed to destroy humanity as we know it. The hangover from all that essentially created the contemporary Liberal Democrat party, who, while not enjoying the mass wave of support the opinion polls had assumed in 2010, were only 6% behind Labour in their share of the popular vote. If the current system wasn’t hopelessly gerrymandered in favour of the Labour party was to be reformed, the Lib Dem share of seats would be greater yet.

No, the Labour party is going to have to do its exile with a bit more dignity before it becomes electable again. And it will, unless the Liberal Democrats manage to use their time in government to further their own agenda (electoral reform is probably key for that). But at the minute we have a battle of the towering mediocrities, who ought to be disbarred from party leadership by virtue of recent service.

Cross-posted at Something Quotable

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