Imagine that you are Gordon Brown (loathsome thought though that might be). You are faced will poll deficits that stretch into the 20s. You have received a thumping defeat in both the local and mayoral elections, and lost a seat that was only 165 on the Tory target list - lost it by a majority of nearly 8,000. Your financial and economic policy is swamped by rising inflation and the slumping value of the pound. The housing market, that has driven the British economy for more than a decade, has finally turned sour. The Bank of England's independent monetary policy committee - that you established - has the task of limiting inflation. This means that rises in interest rates are likely - even though the economy is already slowing.
Not looking too rosy. And what are you supposed to do about it? It is noted, even by your former supporters
, that you comprehensively lack the ability to communicate to voters. There are no cabinet heavyweights that you can send out to spread the message - even John Major had Clarke, Heseltine and Portillo for God's sake. You are stuck with Ed Balls, Alistair Darling and a raft of wonkish Milibands. The economic fundamentals are looking extremely gloomy for the foreseeable future, and you lack the capacity to talk your way out of trouble. If things don't change, you are doomed at the next election.
Now, what on earth do you do? There are essentially two choices, to accept your fate and try and limit your losses, or to carry on in the hope that something might turn up. There are two years to go until you absolutely have to call an election - anything might happen in two years! Surely it's safest just to hang tight, try and establish a new narrative and hope that somehow things turn out all right, isn't it? I think that this precisely how Brown will see it. His last chance is that an unexpected event changes the game, shakes the jigsaw, and he can somehow find his way back out.
But I don't think that it's likely. I think that most people have now written Labour off - under Brown at least. There's a lot of talk about how Cameron hasn't 'sealed the deal' with the electorate, and I think that's probably right. But I suspect that the difference here is whether people vote Tory enthusiastically at the next election or resignedly. The Tories may not yet have true depth in support, but Labour does have true depth of loathing.
On this reading, there is perhaps an argument for cutting your losses, and going to the people early - perhaps over a point of principle. The 42 days policy has already had its gloss knocked off it, but it could still be manipulated into a Government-toppling incident. Even if defeat is likely, there is a good chance that it would not be as devestating as if he stuck it out to the bitter end. Some Tories in 1996 were pressing this point on Major - that if you stretch out your welcome to breaking point, the resultant kicking will be a lot worse.
There was a joke doing the rounds during the second world war - what's the difference between a Jewish optimist and a Jewish pessimist? The pessimists are all in exile, and the optimists are all in camps. Sometimes it really is better to jump before being pushed.
Labels: Labour, politics