John Woodcock’s sober predictions for 2011

by John Woodcock

For those who wish to ensure that festive cheer does not cloud their senses, here are some fairly sober predictions for 2011:

1. Labour councillors and activists will pull out all the stops for the May elections and make significant gains. So far – so optimistic. But this success will make some think we are already at the “one last heave” stage. When in fact we will only be making our way out of base camp. As the cuts begin to bite, it will be tempting to mistake the uncertainty felt towards the Tories for people renewing their bond with Labour. Such a misinterpretation is likely to be our biggest barrier to having the conviction to make the difficult decisions needed to win back the public’s trust.

2. Ed Miliband will not be among those falling into that trap. In one crucial respect, he will continue to think about the cuts programme in the same way as does the Tory leadership. While the public’s perception of what is happening now is hugely important, both David Cameron and our leader understand that cuts will have been implemented at the time of the next election. So the main debate, as the country goes to the polls, will be where we go from 2015. Not whether there might have been a better way of getting from 2010 to 2015.

3. The main threat to unity in the government will come not from the Liberal Democrats, who will successfully extract face-saving measures from David Cameron to soothe their tuition fees humiliation. Rather, it will come from Conservative backbenchers, the only group with the numbers seriously to threaten the passage of government business. Far from calming the waters, more sops to the Lib Dems will further unsettle the Tories. Already, they are publicly complaining at what they see as unequal treatment. They are seething at the way David Cameron has suborned the national interest to Liberal whim on issues like delaying renewal of the nuclear deterrent.

4. The main threat to unity in the Labour party will come from wind-up merchants. You do not have to be Mystic Meg to foresee that journalists will seize on challenging comments from a former cabinet minister, once closely associated with Tony Blair, as evidence that the “Blairites” are out to get Ed Miliband. Around half a dozen people in the party will fall for this and slag off New Labour to put said “Blairites” back in their box. The rest of us will wonder how this nonsense can continue to pass as serious political commentary.

5. While all of the above will be important, none of it will ultimately define the next election. This is going to be a hell of a long slog. And for all the advances we hope to make in the next year, we may find 2011 tougher than 2010.

This has been a bittersweet year for those of us among the new intake of Labour and Labour Co-op MPs. Personal pride and delight at being elected to such a privileged position representing our communities was matched by the blow of losing the opportunity to enact serious change as we fell out of power.

2011, and the years after, may end up being be more bitter than sweet. It is, of course, essential we do all we can to chip away at the government, now and every day next year. But no matter how well we do at the despatch box and on the doorstep, the Tories and Lib Dems will continue to push through decision after decision. Each one disproportionately hitting the decent majority, whom we came into politics to stand up for.

That will hurt like hell. It should, because it is that pain which will keep us focussed on what we need to do to win again.

Happy Christmas.

John Woodcock is Labour and Cooperative MP for Barrow and Furness and a shadow transport minister.

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