Know your enemy

by John Spellar

In a recent discussion on who we should be targeting, one Welsh MP told the old joke: “if you are standing on a cliff with a Conservative and a Liberal Democrat in front of you, who do you push off first, the answer is the Conservative – it’s business before pleasure”.

That priority is absolutely right because the alternative government next time will either be a Conservative or a Labour led government. However, a bit of a refinement of the approach is also probably necessary.

Of course, where you stand in politics often depends on where you sit and I’m sure that my thinking has been shaped by first winning a council seat on an outer London housing estate from the Liberals and understanding at a very early stage how duplicitous, irresponsible and thoroughly negative they are.

However, on a hard-headed practical view of the current political situation, any idea of easing up on the Liberal Democrats is probably premature. It’s certainly the case in Scotland that as the Lib Dem vote collapsed – most of it essentially being an anti Labour establishment vote – it mainly went to the candidates thought most likely to beat Labour, namely the SNP.

However, the picture is very different in other parts of the country. Across much of the North of England, and not just in the big conurbations, the Lib Dems have replaced the Conservatives as the main opposition to Labour. Indeed in many areas they are the sole opposition to Labour. This is also true in some London boroughs.

Therefore for Labour to consolidate our position and firm up our control of those seats, elimination of the Lib Dem political and organisational apparatus which is almost wholly dependent on their councillors is necessary.

This would also then feed into the bigger priority. If the Lib Dems have no hope in seats that they could win from Labour, then in order for them to survive they will have to focus their organisational and propaganda efforts against the Conservatives in many of their seats in the South and South West. We will then have turned round the Iain Duncan Smith paradigm of two coalition parties attacking the Labour party, to two opposition parties attacking the Tories.

Completely focusing on the Tories at the moment would be fine as the answer, if the question was, “how would you vote if there was an election tomorrow”.  However, courtesy of the fixed-term parliament bill we are fairly clear that it is not going to be till 2015. Therefore it serves our interest to consolidate our base over the next year or two while still focusing on our strategy of rebuilding Labour in the South.

It certainly is a sensible business model; it could also be a pleasure.

John Spellar is Labour MP for Warley.

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