The strange death of Labour in England

I was breakfasting in Elda’s Colombian Coffee House recently, chatting with my pal Nat, who told me about life out on the stump. Nat knows a bit about it, having stood for Parliament on several occasions in the Liberal interest. He has no ambition to be an MP, but he’s a long term Lib Dem activist, and so he’s stood for the Lib Dems in constituencies where a Lib Dem candidate was necessary, but where the best that could be hoped for was saving a deposit (which, he points out, he did both times he stood). His brother was the first Liberal to represent Ludlow in Parliament since the 19th Century, and Nat was so close to the heart of the Lib Dem project that he actually shared a flat in London with Lembit Opik before he moved down here. Nat knows a thing or two about campaigning.

Once at a party, he told me that he thinks that the Labour Party will fade into obscurity. He said that the natural state of politics in Britain is a perpetual war between liberalism/radicalism and unionist conservatism, and that socialism was a historical aberration, whose time was passing. I said I hoped that wasn’t quite true. After all, we have a successful socialist party here in Wales. I said that I hoped the forthcoming humiliation of the New Party at the polls would re-empower what remained of the left to take their party back, so that we might have some real choice at the next election, or perhaps the one after that. After all, although it makes some of my readers who remember the eighties retch, Cameron has re-invented his party, to an extent, and the communitarianist ideas behind ‘The Big Society’ are radical, well-argued and not a million miles away from things the Greens have been talking about for years. Some time in the wilderness might be the very thing to enable the Labour Party to re-emerge from under the bombed out and bankrupt wreckage of the New.

Now Nat tells me he thinks his argument is coming true, and not just because of the surge in the polls. He says that nobody is encountering New Party activists out on the doorstep. They have just… gone. There are Lib Dems and Tories aplenty, and a few UKIP saddos, too. But the New Party foot soldiers are simply not there. Hopefully, they are sitting in backrooms, plotting to take over on May 7th. But Nat could be right. The party really could be over.

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~ by Ian Marchant on April 19, 2010.

9 Responses to “The strange death of Labour in England”

  1. Labour are far more popular today, than the Conservatives were in 1997. British politics is like one big cycle. Labour will not fade into obscurity at all, thankfully.

  2. I think your mate’s right about the Unionist Conservatives being a perennial part of the political mix, and I also agree that in the end, there is a cleavage which defines politics. I just think (and hope, natch as a fellow Green leftist) that socialism’s era _is_ passing, but only because the new cleavage is one in which socialism as was simply isn’t enough.

    Liberalism was enough, when the struggle was for deomcratic rights, but once they were won, the liberal party was unable to accomodate all the voices it once swept up, and the liberal unionists buggered off with the Chamberlains, and the trade unions likewise with the Labour Party which was a much more important development, as it represented how the new struggle was not for political justice, but economic justice. The Liberals remained as the place for people who resented the idea of choosing, or didn’t like the choices as presented.

    I see the Greens as the successors to the LRC or ILP of Keir Hardie, representing the new struggle for environmental justice, as it were. The Lib Dems may retain their place as the middle ground as was, or they could ultimately be torn by the new cleavage. The Tories will do alright, as all epochs have need of a party of people who are doing well out of the current state of affairs, or people who fear change more than they hope for it, and the big question is for Labour.

    Like their Liberal party parent, they’ve become unable to accommodate the diverse voices which represent a changing political epoch, and the notion that they were once radical and the party of change simply isn’t enough.

  3. Two fascinating comments. Actually, as the polls stand, Labour are far less popular than the Tories in ’97. Major got 33% of the vote, whilst according to the BBC’s poll of polls, Labour are currently on 28%. Lots to play for, but I don’t think we can say for sure that Labour will do better than the 97 Tories.
    And I’ve long hoped that the Greens would be seen as the heirs of the ILP. But Labour had the unions; and I wonder who we’ve got to fund us, or to provide the footsoldiers?

  4. If sharing a flat in that London with Lembit Opik puts you ‘so close to the heart of the Lib Dem project’ then who knows we could see a Cheeky Girl getting a big up on this blog before the week’s out…

    I agree Cameron has re-invented the Conservative Party but only to the extent that I ‘re-invented’ my front door; I stuck a great big shiny new knob on the front and made sure no-one could peer through the letterbox…

  5. Holding back a retch, deep breath, the old Labour party will never reappear, it’s raison d’etre has gone, it is a victim of it’s own success. Your pal may be right about the liberal/conservative dichotomy in the long term – maybe socialism was an aberration, but maybe a necessary response to the prevailing conditions at the time. All three parties are very close now, as they are all targeting the middle ten percentile – not very attractive and totally devoid of any idealism, which makes you very suspicious of why they want the power in the first case.
    I have to say I’m a bit worried about your rabid hatred of the governing party Ian – they’re just not that different to anybody else.

  6. For some reason I’m reminded of how football fans talk when their team is having a crap season and might go down. A few years in the lower leagues, go back to the basics, clear out the Johnnie Come Latelies and glory-hunters, play some real football, get the fundamentals right, then come back up stronger… Yes, relegation might not be so bad after all….

  7. Not to trivialise these important matters, but I’d like to hear more about sharing a flat with Lembit Opik. Did your mate get any Cheeky action?

  8. Yes, he did get some Cheeky action. In fact, Nat had to look after La cheeky on her first date with ‘Lemby’, because of ‘Lemby’ having to vote. So Paul is right (on this count at least); I have done a Cheeky Girls blog.
    As to the gravediggers point that the parties are all pretty much the same, why not then vote for the party which has killed the least number of people over the last ten years?

  9. Having now seen the budget – and the increasing annoyance of many with the Libs and Clegg’s exposure as the supporter of wealthy vested interests I’m putting my money on the lib dems being the party that may evaporate into history.

    Hindsight is a wonderful thing – but reading your election blog now the govt is clear about what it will do (in terms of who it has chosen to kick first) – makes this discussion here look strangely out of place….

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