My advice to the Labour leadership contenders – admit Labour will never win a General Election again. It’s not as painful as it sounds, because nor will the Tories. The age of one-Party rule is over, and the sooner Labour admits it the sooner they can develop a realistic strategy for government and for opposition. The Tories have stolen a march on Labour precisely by grasping this fact and acting on it – perhaps out of necessity, but one they have quickly turned into a virtue.
Support for the main parties has been in continuous decline since the high-point of two-party politics in 1951. This decline has been disguised by the seeming decisiveness of the first-past-the-post system which has delivered large majorities to both Tories and New Labour on ever decreasing shares of the vote. But the last election seems to have been a tipping point where a combination of a third-party small increase in votes (if not seats), the vagaries of constituency distribution and an electorate seemingly no longer afraid of a hung parliament.
Boundary and seat reform, devolution creating new ‘national’ politics in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland,and possible voting reform to AV too, can only make it even more likely that no one party will be likely to get a majority of seats ever agin.
So we are probably – almost certainly – into an age of coalitions and New Labour’s future leaders have to learn a whole new way of doing politics which manages to combine adversialism with creating space for collaboration, which is a tricky sport. There are some small signs that Labour’s leaders are starting to learn in the reaction to the Coalition’s first Budget. Fire has been directed against the coalition partners differentially.
But that is very small beer – in the leadership election all the talk is about getting back to “winning”. For many Labour supporters the advent of the Con-Lib coalition has reinforced the idea that “it will be our turn again” in due course. This is a dangerous illusion for them. The lesson of history is that periods of austerity do not necessarily result in a turn to the opposition, much less a turn to the left.And even if it did, the arguments made above still stand – Labour might get back to being the largest party but that’s not the same as an outright win, which is now highly unlikely.
So Labour’s potential new leaders need to get real. Stop talking about how to “win” and start talking about how to get the best you can from the new politics…..