UK Politics,  Vote 2010

The NuLab Legacy: Is it worth preserving?

This is a guest post by Phil

In a week, the strong likelihood is that the NuLab 13-year experiment will come to an end and it will probably be difficult to find many bereaving over its demise. The set narrative, at least for those on the Left, is that Blair enshrined the Thatcherite legacy, maintaining anti-union legislation, strengthening the City institutions and failing to re-nationalise while increasing the role of the private sector in the provision of utilities.

But there is another legacy of the Blair-Brown era. The Labour Party moved from being a party solely based on class interests to one of liberal values and it has taken the whole of society with it. Devolution, freedom of information and (minor) reform of the House of Lords are positive and unbreakable legacies. The perceptions of the Tories as the nasty party has kept it at incredibly low poll figures even now when taking into consideration that we are at the end of a tired Labour administration with an unpopular and media-unfriendly PM and in the midst of an economic recession.

1997 marked a watershed in British politics, one in which the era of the Conservative Party – and the centre-right world view that goes with it – is no longer the natural party of government. The combined centre-Left vote has grown increasingly since the early 90’s and the tactical voting that went on in the last two elections proves that there is a genuine desire to avoid the election of a Tory government on the part of the majority of the British public.

Social attitudes too have changed and even the Conservative Party have made attempts to re-define their social policy – at least for public consumption – in order to move towards this liberal-left social consensus.

However, the Conservatives remain a class-based party. When we examine the fundamental chunks of their economic platform we see the imperative need to reduce inheritance tax despite the deficit and the visceral hatred of employers’ national insurance contributions – the two planks of economic policy which more than any others seek to maintain control of wealth in the hands of the few. Make no mistake, even while not mentioned, the improvements in the minimum wage and the social welfare legislation gains are threatened by a Tory government. Electoral reform and scrapping of an undemocratic House of Lords you can forget.

As we enter the last week before the election, we are likely to see a classic squeeze on the Labour vote used as a successful tactic by the Lib Dems in by-elections and similarly utilised now on a national level. The catastrophic Labour campaign, the personal unpopularity of the prime minister and the Rochdale gaffe will be portrayed to show that Labour has no chance of winning this election and that the “only” way to prevent a Tory majority will be for progressives to vote Lib Dem. The Labour vote may well collapse to an epic low in the very low 20s or worse.

In fact, we are already seeing this happen. Poll after poll shows that there is a greater fall-out to the Lib Dems from the Labour vote in Lab-Lib marginals in the North and Midlands than a corresponding fall out to the LibDems from the Tories in Tory-LibDem marginals in the south. The effect of this will undoubtedly prevent most of these Lib-Dem-Tory marginals from falling to the Lib-Dems while ensuring that Lab-Lib-Dem marginals mostly fall to the Lib-Dems. Many maybe believe that there is nothing inherently wrong in that and that this could lead by the wonders of British electoral arithmetic to a hung parliament, the creation of a Lib-Lab coalition and the insertion of electoral reform.

That though is looking through rose-tinted spectacles gone mad.

Outside Lab-Lib-Dem marginals, particularly in the North-West, North-East, London and the Midlands, a classic Lib-Dem squeeze on the Labour vote will see swathes of Labour seats falling to the Tories. Let’s suppose that most of the regular readers of this blog and those that agree with the basic tenets of its founders and contributors understand where they can vote Lib Dem and where they can’t. Do we really believe that most of the electorate understand these nuances too in a campaign that has been so short on policy and real issues?

You can hide your neck in the sand so far but the incontestable truth is that a collapse of the Labour vote in its heartlands to the LibDems can only produce one result and that is a thumping Conservative majority. Then think who are the people who will be part of this new batch of Tory MPs, the ones who remained or grew up in the party when all but the nastiest were leaving it in droves.

I’ll come clean since it’s unreasonable to believe that I’m not partisan like everyone else out there. I don’t like the LibDems. I’ve never voted for them apart from one European election in the early 80s when the Labour Party was so nutty on Europe and CND, it kind of made sense. I think their foreign policy smacks of moral relativism and potential appeasement to some quite nasty dictators. I’m a liberal interventionist so I’m not a Liberal. I think their leader is the most right-wing of his kind in recent Liberal history and their economic policy often matches it. But I do recognise that many liberals with a small “l” think of them as natural allies with progressive policies in many areas and may see them as the best chance to clean up the political system.

Let’s all agree on one thing. There isn’t going to be a Labour majority government and there isn’t going to be a LibDem majority government either. We all know that in our heart of hearts. Elections should not be about punishing political parties for being too Right or too Left or for sectarian tactics to ensure that you win the election after next or bring forward the glorious revolution. Elections for progressives should be about getting the most progressive policies and agenda and sound government for the country which does not end up throwing sectors of the population to the wolves.

And I’ll tell you something else as well. An inward-looking Left licking its wounds after a huge defeat is going to do precisely what? In the words of this site’s “about us” it’s going to have all those “Stoppers, Gallowayites, Livingstonians and Islamists” fighting over the corpse.

It’s time to get real before you regret it.