Five Years from The Next Election
Many on the left seem engaged in head-up-bottom introspection and election predictions, two-hundred-and-sixty-eight weeks (probably) from the next election. They are the same people who couldn’t predict the last election five minutes before the polls closed. Now, they speak with absolute certainty about the next one, which is five years away. The lessons are there for whomever cares to learn them.
Within a similar timeframe in Greece: the leading left-of-centre PaSoK had collapsed from 45% of the vote to 4.5% of the vote; a new radical party was governing in coalition with the equivalent of UKIP; oh yes; and the nastier, Greek version of the BNP had come third.
Elections turn on events and events are notoriously unpredictable.
Who could have predicted “Sleaze” creating a perfect storm with “Back to Basics” in the early 90s? Or the MPs expenses scandal within months of the Global Financial Crisis in 2008-09? There are events that no government can live down. There are wounds inflicted which are fatal, whether instantly or over time. All it takes is a nexus of unforeseen events and an opposition shrewd enough to capitalise on it.
Strangely, I think the former condition was present during the last administration, but not the latter. Cameron was hugely vulnerable after he lost the vote on Syria. His backbenchers were itching for a fight. The “Omnishambles Budget” was a thread hanging off a very delicate coalition fabric, just begging for someone to keep tugging. Nobody did with any conviction. Osborne’s job was on the line that month. 20% more pressure and the LibDems would have joined calls for his head.
These things could and should have been kept fresh in people’s minds. An inescapable narrative of incompetence begged to be constructed. Every time the Conservatives claimed competence in security, the public should have been reminded of a PM who refused to return from holiday, then recalled the House and presented a half-baked Syria motion, which he lost. Every time they claimed economic competence, a reminder of the “Omnishambles” budget should have been the response. By the time we got to the election, the Coalition would have been the brunt of limericks and the punchline of jokes.
Instead, having done little of this groundwork, Labour got involved in a circle-wank with headstones and coffee mugs. This is because for over four years it had been an introspective party, behind the curve of events, concerned over whether it had chosen the right leader, winning the occasional battle, but unable to sustain a strategy for winning the war. Everything was aimed at convincing itself of its own credentials, instead of convincing the country.
Battles are not won or lost only in the four weeks of a campaign. They are won and lost in the years that precede them. Anyone can play a check-mate, provided they are handed a chess board in which a check-mate is one move away. The skill is in getting in that position. Opportunities will present themselves for either side, because they always do; because politics is shaped by the fickle nature of events. The biggest of these opportunities may materialise in four years or tomorrow. All the governing party can do is be as unified, professional and effective as possible; ready to play a killer move. All the opposition has to do is exactly the same. The best strategy will win.
Every moment that is devoted exclusively to introspection is lost from effective opposition. The two activities can and must go hand-in-hand. There isn’t “plenty of time”. Opposition is Labour’s key constitutional role. Once the moment is gone, it is impossible to recover. The stakes are high: the future of the NHS and the BBC, the integrity of our civil rights, our membership of the European Union. If these bedrocks are allowed to be eroded unopposed, the public will never forgive Labour. I will never forgive Labour.