Wednesday, 4 January 2017

The Last Rites of the Left

Parliament is not back until next Monday and so we are still in semi holiday mode for a few more days. Time then to consider what the New Year has in store for the car crash that is the Labour Party.

You know it could well be that they are finally waking up to their fate. It was widely reported yesterday that Len McCluskey has let it be known that Chauncey may have to step aside before the next election if the polls continue to be as disastrous and if his performance fails to improve.

McCluskey continues to bask in his role as the puppet master of the Labour Party. It never seems to occur to him that he has a habit of choosing losers (he backed both Chauncey and Wallace before him) and that he may be out of step with the electorate. He's probably even out of step with his own members as Gerard Coyne, his opponent in the leadership contest, claims. Coyne has offered the startling view that it might be better for a union leader to work for his members' best interests and stop playing politics.

A report this week claimed that Labour might well win fewer than 200 seats at the next general election if things do not improve. Any realistic analysis of the electoral tea leaves would suggest that an improvement is unlikely. The public have made up their minds about Chauncey and his party. They can see that it is divided and conflicted and indeed in perpetual conflict even if it is currently covering this up well. This is why it currently languishes on a poll rating around the mid twenties. This is potentially disastrous. There is no serious prospect of Labour winning an election without its former Scottish fiefdom it came to take for granted. But were it to score something like its current poll rating (the latest YouGov poll put it on 24%) it would be wiped out across large parts of the country, a result it would take at least 3 elections to recover from, even supposing it can be reclaimed from the hard left.

There is nothing at all unexpected or unfair about any of this. Labour has been heading towards this for 20 years now, a process that started when it was in the pomp of the Blair years though few realised it at the time. It started taking its own voters for granted and its professional middle class operators actively disdained the very people the party was set up to defend and work for. They refused to talk about immigration and the impact this was having on working people who struggle to make ends meet, the people who work hard but find their money running out between pay packets. Their resentment simmered for years and finally broke cover at the last election and then at the referendum last year. In Scotland it broke cover years ago when Labour voters moved en masse to the SNP. The SNP imagine that their success means large scale support for independence. In truth they have only won support by pretending to be social democrats. In England Ukip is starting to realise that they have the same opportunity. They could become the party of the working class replacing Labour by talking about the issues and concerns of working class people who feel ignored for the very good reason that they are ignored. There was a time when Labour MPs came from working class backgrounds. That has disappeared over the last 20 years.

Theresa May has been right to be cautious about calling a general election needlessly. She knows that calling them early can be fraught with danger. But that is the conventional wisdom. We are in unprecedented times and Labour is unelectable. Yet its leader is in a position of unprecedented strength. For the time being he is unassailable. The only way he can be removed any time soon is if Labour loses an election so badly that even the perennial dreamers of the left cannot claim that it was because they were not left wing enough.

For now the prime minister is ruling out a general election. But that may just be her being canny. She could well be playing a waiting game, waiting for the opportunity when she will claim that she has no option but to call an election. Yes there is the small matter of the Fixed Term Parliament Act, a piece of Lib Dem constitutional vandalism, but that can easily be overridden and then consigned to the dustbin of history where it belongs. If Brexit continues to be frustrated by legal challenges, interfering judges and even by parliament itself then Mrs May will have her excuse. She can get herself a massive new mandate, cement her party in power for another decade and wipe out Labour all at the same time. It could all happen this year. And there was us thinking that 2016 was exciting.

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