Friday, July 25, 2008

The strange death of Labour England

Ten years after winning an enormous Parliamentary majority over a Tory party that was both tired and ideologically split, Britain's ruling party was demoralised, increasingly impoverished and ruinously split on matters of foreign policy. The party suffered a split between its two factions, and never again formed a Government.

I love the smell of historical analogies in the morning. And to be fair, the circumstances that led to the death of the Liberal Party have not been repeated - thank God, seeing that the principle factor was the First World War. Nevertheless, it is instructive in that parties of the centre-left have died in the past, and there is no reason why they should not do so again. Last night's by-election defeat, in Labour's 25th strongest seat no less, could be seen not as a turning point but as confirmation that the turning point has already been reached. Wherever Labour has been forced to face the decision of the electorate - the local elections, the Mayoral elections, Crewe, Henley and Glasgow East - the results have been disastrous. Not merely bad but terrible. The worst ever results in the local elections, the first loss of the mayoralty, losing Crewe on an 18% swing, coming fifth in Henley and losing their deposit and now losing Glasgow East on a 22% swing. These are shattering numbers - the latest opinion poll deficits predict a seat share of Con: 410 Lab: 167 LD: 29. Mind blowing stuff.

And there's no reason why these numbers are going to improve either. The economic situation is going to get worse before it gets better - and even if it does improve Labour should remember the Tories' 'voteless recovery' in the late 1990s. Brown's real problems are innate and not a result of exterior forces. He cannot communicate, he has no sense of where he wants the country to go and he cannot run an effective cabinet. Brown is not going to be able to pull this one back. But on the other hand, there is no-one waiting in the wings who is likely to be any better. And even if they did go for broke, recognising that this time things really can only get better, any new leader will be faced with precisely the same situation - and with even less democratic legitimacy.

David Cameron recently said that the Tories have spent the last two years 'earning the right to be heard'. The problem for Labour is that they have effectively lost it. They have reached the stage when people turn the radio off when they here a Labour voice. The Labour Party are going to go down to a very heavy defeat in the next election. They will do this regardless of whether they go to the country now or hang on until June 2010. They will do this regardless who leads them. They will do this regardless of the economic situation - though the scale of the defeat will be affected. The really interesting question is what they will do next.

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