An extremely good post by Hopi Sen on the difficulties and contradictions of opposition. As he says, there is a continual tension between tactical opposition and strategic positioning – there are countless examples of parties that were good oppositions, but failed to convince as an alternative Government. He has good advice too for Ed Miliband:
One the one side, resisting the urge to jump at easy tactical victories at the price of strategic defeats which will prevent us becoming the next government.
On the other, resisting the urge to destroy the village in order to save it, accepting that oppositions must campaign and oppose with vigour and energy to show progress and growth. That sometimes it is right to jump on the passing bandwagon, if it’s going in the right direction.
He’s also right that Labour are having difficulty adjusting to the reality of not being in power. When Ed Miliband became leader, Polly Toynbee wrote a bizarre ‘open letter’ to him containing priceless advice like the following:
Do be brave, at least sometimes: governments are also judged on policies they enact when public opinion is out of kilter with the facts.
Don't panic on crime. Don't respond to every passing horror with a hundred new Criminal Justice Acts. Don't overflow prisons with the non-violent. Understand the public need for tough punishment but know your only measure of success is reduced re-offending.
Don't be afraid to back winners, whatever neo-liberal textbooks say (conveniently forgetting China, Singapore and the US): support manufacturing, invest in British-built wind farms, in home insulation and carbon capture.
Don't allow another housing bubble. If prices take off again, impose a land value tax and use the proceeds to kick-start building private and social homes, an engine for growth.
Do reform voting so elections no longer rely on winning a handful of middle Englanders in marginals. Make every vote count. Reform the Lords.
Don't go to war without wholehearted national support backed by solid international law.
The merits or otherwise of this advice is beside the point – none of it is relevant to a Leader of the Opposition. Can anyone reading this remember what was in the 2001 Tory manifesto? Something about saving the pound – and that’s literally all I can remember. 90% of the time, no-one cares what oppositions say or do. Nobody knows who is in the Shadow Cabinet – they barely know who is in the Cabinet. Prime Ministers wake up wondering what to do; Leaders of the Opposition wake up wondering what to say.