What will happen to Labour in opposition?
For the purposes of this piece I am going to assume a narrow Conservative victory at the next election. In fact, I think the mood music is pointing to this being the outcome. Proponents of the hung-parliament thesis have a point and next to the above scenario this is the most likely I feel with a Conservative landslide or Labour victory both being at the unlikely end of the various probabilities.
So, we can assume that Gordon Brown will depart gracefully having lost the election. We can also expect some naval gazing though the intensity of this will depend on how just how big the Conservatives win. If the unlikely does come to pass and the Conservative achieve a landslide of 1997 proportions expect it to be intense and bitter; the left is already paving the way with article like those on Liberal Conspiracy calling for the ditching of the ‘third-way’. It is easy to travel back in time and condemn this leftward lurch out of hand but to do so would be folly; it is as clear as day that the Labour Party is having serious problems motivating and connecting with it’s ‘core vote’ and that is a problem because losing your core vote makes you dependent on the whim of ‘swing-voters’. Also, it is patent folly to contextualise historical experiences in present and naturally much changed circumstances.
It is, I believe, a naive belief that the ‘swing-vote’- is best courted by being amorphous. People respond to a strong articulation of beliefs and flock too it if they can be convinced that those beliefs best represent the furtherance of their own interests. Hence, the Labour Party of the past was able to attract a coalition of support for it’s programme including the middle classes. So, it is often a false counter-position between electoral expediency and principles. Besides although there will most likely be an increase in union militancy under Cameron the social conditions simply don’t exist for a ‘lurch’ to the left; nor is the Labour left coherent enough to win one.
Conservative Home sees the Labour Party’s potential ‘lurch to the left’ as a good thing and seems to be virtually rubbing it’s hands with glee; it sees the departure of Stephen Byers as a further indicator of the shape of things to come. However, a strong social democrat opposition would not necessarily benefit Cameron with more and more voters not having been around for the 1980’s and the ‘demon eyes’ argument being less than effective when the electorate have recently elected Labour for three consecutive terms. Furthermore, a readjustment of the Labour Party to the left may well not cripple it in an atmosphere of financial crisis and widespread calls for at least radical reforms of how capitalism works.
If the Labour Party is under 50 seats behind the Conservatives it will be close enough to menace Cameron and make a second-term at the very least a challenge. Of course, this will put the Liberal Democrats in an interesting position; it will demand an even clearer articulation of what we stand for but it will also see probably greater levels of dialogue between our social liberal wing and the Compass/Fabian wing of the Labour Party. This is a dialogue that will doubtless shape the future direction of both parties…..
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