Labour’s Green Shoots?

Who Should Wield The Scissors?
Who Should Wield The Scissors?

Cuts. Brown survived the week to fight other battles, and the first he has chosen (other than a spectacular own goal scored in reappointing Shahid Malik without the necessary checks) is the old faithful ‘the Tories will reduce services’ one. This was gifted to him on Wednesday morning after Shadow Health Secretary Andrew Lansley seemed to suggest in a Today interview that, if ring-fencing key areas of spending such as health, a Tory government would cut all other departments’ spending by a whopping 10%. Brown naturally went on the attack in PMQs, and sounded passionate and purposeful in doing so.

The trouble was that Fraser Nelson had already done the maths. The right-wing commentator’s figures quickly became accepted – by the time of Thursday night’s Question Time, Caroline Spelman was reciting like a mantra ‘they’re your figures’ to Peter Hain’s protestations. This is a good position for the Tories to be in – they are slowly but surely developing an at times unlikely economics policy, and Nelson’s findings give them some room for maneuver. Brown will find them so hard to crush with the old ‘Tory cuts’ line largely because everyone – the NHS included – has a sense that investment must fall. When Labour insist, red-faced, that they are committed to real-terms growth, people simply cannot believe them.

Recovery cannot be theatre. Labour cannot afford to be seen to be posturing, but their problem is simple: the most effective argument when faced with inevitable cuts should simply be, ‘who do you trust to make them?’ The electorate should not trust the Tories; but, alas, nor do they trust Labour. The Labour Party have lost the link with their core constituency which established them as advocates for ordinary people; to most of those voters at this point, they seem as elite as the Tories. This makes their best potential argument ring rather hollow. Much discussion of Labour revival revolves around a reconnection with this lost core constituency (this of course joins up with fighting the BNP).

These demands naturally stir objections from the right, but a Populus poll this week suggested that there is no appetite for a lurch in their direction. Labour can and must make the running: if they believe defeat inevitable, there is nothing to lose; equally, it may be the only way to victory – a political party without a base is done for. And are there green economic shoots? Perhaps. Even if those bear fruit, there are huge difficulties ahead – re-engaging the working class with an emasculated union network and a dying activist base won’t be easy, and as (stick with me here) Charles Clarke argues this weekend, social democrats across Europe are in search of a narrative. It will be hard to do this sort of thinking whilst in government; but to rely on anaemic old narratives and yesterday’s spin is no solution to a problem which is not yet without one.

2 thoughts on “Labour’s Green Shoots?

  1. I agree with most of your analysis. The fact that Gordon Brown can stand there at PMQ’S and try to push a Labour spending vs Tory cuts Line (when everybody in the general public is aware of the political facts) would be hysterically funny if it wasn’t so tragic. Your absolutely right the centre left are in search of a narrative but truthfully, they won’t find one. Please do not make the mistake that other centre left/Liberal political commentaters seem to be making – Which is to underestimate the point to which the public have moved to the right. Sure if a team of pollsters hit the streets asking people their poltical views most aren’t going to admit that they’ll probably vote tory come election day( the nasty party image hasn’tcompletely dissapeared just yet). Labour have lost the next election no matter what, a change of leader won’t change that and the right narrative will only soften the blow. The country is becoming far more nationalist in it’s mood and even on social issues I suspect they are starting to move towards a more Cameron tough love appraoch. However the Left wont accept this they’ll still publish their articles of denial, claiming ‘The public are after a more active Goverment so why are they about to vote in a centre right party?’. As a Liberal myself I feel the longer it takes for the Liberal/ left to realise where they’ve gone wrong in the past and why they’ve really lost their connection with the electorate it’s going to be a terribly long, gruelling slog back to being electable after the next Election.

  2. Hi, Catho – thanks for stopping by! My problem with your scenario is relatively simple: it’s impossible to verify. That is, if what you’re saying is that the true rightwards shift in the electorate is being masked because in opinion polls voters don’t feel they can admit to favouring the Tories, how can we ever discover if you’re right?

    Not that there isn’t precedence for this phenomenon – it was very much the case in 1992, when every opinion poll had Labour winning the general election of that year. Of course, they didn’t – because once in the privacy of the voting booth, people felt they could cast a vote for the Conservatives.

    I do wonder, though, how much this is a rightward shift and how much its simply one party taking the characterless centreground from another. Is there really hunger in the electorate for Tory social policy? I’m not sure. My hunch for some time was that Cameron’s government would be a one-term wonder; but the collapse of the Labour vote which you point out may well put paid to that if the party can’t prevent themselves getting into that gruelling slog you describe…

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