UK Politics

Sleeping with the enemy

Anti-war lefty Ken Macleod is getting worried:

An uneasy feeling, nothing more: This country is sleepwalking towards a Tory government. A new Tory government would not be more of the same – Blairism with a less human face. It would be as different from the governments of Thatcher and Major as theirs were from those of Edward Heath. It would resemble Thatcher’s only in its capacity to astonish. The Left would spend the next ten years beating their heads against questions like How can they get away with that? and Where did we go wrong?

Better to figure out where we’re going wrong now. We’re going wrong in two ways, which are two sides of the same mistake: identifying the Labour Party with Blairism. One part of the Left is busy defending New Labour, and another part is saying there’s no difference between the Labour Party and the Tories, and is busy building electoral alternatives to the Labour Party. It doesn’t matter whether these alternatives are the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, the SSP or Respect. In a General Election under the British first-past-the-post system, any non-Labour vote or abstention anywhere but a rock-solid safe seat is a Tory vote.

In elections my general approach is to assume the worst could happen. Put those reassuring polls to one side (remembering that polls have got it wrong time and time again) and remind yourself that turnout could well fall again; that chunks of middle class liberal voters have been alienated from Labour by the war and could turn to the Lib Dems; that in local and Euro elections there have been increased votes for the new parties of the right, such as UKIP, the BNP and Respect. As well as the much reported collapse in the ‘Muslim vote’, Labour has also fallen by six points among married women with children.

But, you say, we can’t ignore the fact that the polls do look fairly reassuring, still giving Labour a decent majority.

Well, maybe but those calculations (of percentage vote-to-seats in the Commons) are done using the Baxter Method which makes its prediction based on applying the suggested uniform national swing to what happened in each of the seats in 2001.

The website believes that may mislead us:

What happens if instead you compare today’s vote shares with what happened in 1997 when a much younger Tony Blair (above) led New Labour to its stunning landlside victory?

For 2001 was an extraordinary election for Labour which managed see its margin over the Tories decline by more than a quarter but still be returned with a majority of 160+. This was because the party did so much better in its marginals and the fact there was more tactical voting.

But what happens if these two factors do not happen again on the same scale which seem likely? Why not apply recent poll shares to the 1997 General Election result.

The answer the site provides is: a Labour majority of just 25. That is based on polls giving Labour a three point lead over the Tories. Now you don’t need to be an election prediction wizard to realise what would happen if that three point lead turned out to be an over-estimation of Labour’s support.

The Tories must be delighted by some of the antics from disillusioned Labour supporters such as the website Backing Blair which urges anti-Labour tactical voting because: Labour candidates need to know what Blair’s ongoing leadership has/will/may cost them. We want survivors of the protest vote to come away determined to unseat Blair.

And we couldn’t give a toss about the performance of an MP regarding their service to the local community. The invasion of a country that presents no threat to us on the basis of thin and politically-influenced intelligence sets a dangerous precedent that threatens us all. The same goes for detaining people without trial. Domestic issues pale into insignificance next to such things, I’m afraid.

There is another section of the psuedo-left which argues: Labour candidates who opposed the war should not be punished; otherwise, where candidates for the Greens and Respect are standing they should be supported. In some places, the Liberal Democrats may be the only viable opposition to the Tories.

In other words organise Saddam’s revenge at the ballot box – punish those Labour MP’s who voted for the armed overthrow the fascist regime in Iraq but reward those who voted to keep the dictator in power.

It would, naturally, be tempting to respond with the opposite – organise an online tactical voting campaign to get rid of those MP’s who, for example, continue to support the Iraqi resistance via the Stop the War Coalition rather than back democrats in Iraq.

But I think most of us on the left, despite everything else, would still find it hard to vote for a decent Tory even ahead of a Jeremy Corbyn, Alan Simpson or an Alice Mahon. Lets satisfy ourselves on the anti-Stopper front in a positive way – with a victory for Labour’s Oona King and a defeat for Saddam’s little helper in Bethnal Green and and Bow.

Because the general election is not a referendum on Iraq, however much those who lost the vote and continue to lose the argument wish it were. A general election in the UK is about one question – who shall govern?

I’ve no idea if Ken Macleod is right and a Howard government would resemble Thatcher’s only in its capacity to astonish but as a Labour supporter I’m not keen to find out. Just as I presume the worst in elections, I presume the worst about the Tory party.

Battles within the Labour Party should be fought within the Labour party and not at general elections. A ‘left’ which has consistently failed to offer a winning alternative to Blairism is now drifting towards the politics of bitter revenge and getting dangerously close to sleeping with the enemy.