by Dan Hodges
The terror. The stomach-churning, sheet-drenching, palpitation-inducing fear that gnaws at the heart of the people’s party.
At night it infiltrates our dreams. During the day it invades our subconscious.
He could come back. They could come back. We could lose our party once again.
Tony Blair. New Labour. Once they were a leader and political program; successful ones at that.
Now they are bogeyman. Tales to scare the children. Anthony Charles Lynton Blair – our very own Keyser Soze.
The Labour party has been seized by a form of progressive McCarthyism. Beneath every bed lieTory traitors. Within every closet lurk Blairite counter-revolutionaries. In every basement there are secret cabals yearning for a return for the lost leader, David Miliband.
The local elections were a great result, say the true believers. We have a mountain to climb, but we have at least reached base camp. Ed has only been in post eight months. Give it a rest, and him time.
Then the terror finds a voice. The Blairites are agitating. They are plotting. Keyser Soze is coming for us again.
Last week I spoke to a friend who’s a well connected Conservative; in the current mood, it was itself a risky act. He lay out calmly and succinctly the Tory view of the political landscape. The local elections were a clear success. They had expected to suffer significant losses, though not on the scale predicted by many pundits. But they had not expected gains. The results in Wales, the Midlands, parts of Yorkshire and the South exceeded their internal predictions. There were some concerns over their lack of progress in some of the northern cities. They would be closely watching the result in London next year. But the issue for them was no longer whether they faced a significant threat from Labour, but whether they will be in position to secure an outright majority at the next election, and by what margin. Their private polling indicated Ed Miliband is demonstrably failing to connect with the electorate. “The fact is that in an election campaign he just won’t be able to hold his own against Cameron”, was the verdict.
I also spoke to a Labour supporting political journalist. His view was that “the local election results were much worse than I was expecting”. He added, “I’ve been approached by at least two or three MPs, people who haven’t spoken up before. They’re very down. They think things are headed in the wrong direction”.
I then spoke to a shadow cabinet source. “Look”, he said, “don’t believe what anyone tells you. However it looks on the surface, it’s always worse behind the scenes. Things are bad in here. Very bad”.
But we don’t want to hear any of this. Instead, we are alert to a different sound. The creak on the staircase. The rattle of the window frame. The tell-tale signs that the Blairite ultras are once more on the prowl.
On Friday, another journalist and I discussed the state of the party. “The shadow cabinet is basically falling into three camps”, he said. “The people who are not willing to do anything about the lack of direction, the people who can’t be bothered to do anything and the people who want to do something but haven’t got a clue what it should be”. Collectively we identified seven shadow cabinet members who fitted one of those three categories. Their analysis of Labour’s predicament sat somewhere between disillusion and despair. But all of them recognised that the party was headed in the wrong direction. In fact, the consensus was that the party wasn’t heading anywhere at all. “Look”, said one shadow cabinet source, “I didn’t vote for Ed, but he’s still leader. I want to try and get behind him. But what am I supposed to be getting behind? There’s no vision, no strategy, nothing. It’s just a vacuum”.
No vision maybe. But we have our nightmare. The lurch to the right. A fire-sale of our values. Keyser Soze and his disciples are again stalking our soul.
Labour is no longer a party on a mission. Instead we are a party whistling past the graveyard. The opinion polls aren’t that bad. Ed’s ratings aren’t that bad. The election results were quite good.
And as we tiptoe through the darkness, so we seize on every chink of light amid the gloom. We parse every speech, seizing upon a phrase here, or a sentence there. “The squeezed middle”, “the jilted generation”, “a new generation for change”, “the promise of Britain”. All around us people are asleep. Oblivious. But we cling to these empty words, our comforters, as we continue our fearful, lonely journey.
And the terror marches with us. It would be stupid, we say, to set out a detailed policy program so far out from a general election. OK, comes the response, so why do we need to stick with our commitment to retain a 50% tax rate. Dear God, ditch the 50% tax rate? Why don’t you just throw open all the doors and windows? Invite Keyser Soze back into the room?
Shouldn’t we be a bit worried about our leader’s poor approval ratings? Worried? For goodness sake. Ed’s only been leader 8 months. No one has good approval rating after 8 months. Except for Him. He had good ratings. Do you want Him back as your leader?
Appealing to the Lib Dems is all well and good. But what about Tories. Don’t we need to attract southern Tories if we’re to win again? Tories? Reach out to Tories? Have you forgotten? Is your memory so short? That’s what He did. Remember. For pity’s sake, don’t your remember?
Ed Miliband isn’t Labour’s problem. The irresolution, timidity and inconsistency currently characterising his leadership are mere reflections of the phobia gripping his party. He was not elected because he represented the future. He was elected because he represented a bulwark against the past. Ed might not help us win. But he may just help us forget.
Except that he can’t. We can’t. We are suffering the political equivalent of post traumatic stress disorder. Say we must stand firm in Libya and we are transported to the deserts of Iraq. Say we must adopt a pragmatic response to the cuts and we see an exodus of our heartlands.
We are blinded by the terror. There are people within the Labour party, some of them around the leader, who would prefer to see David Cameron remain in Downing Street than have Ed Miliband, or anyone else, oust him via a “New Labour” prospectus. Keyser Soze taking his seat at the cabinet table. The final apocalypse.
This is what we have become. A party scared of its own shadow. Haunted by its own past.
We could face our demons. But we choose not to. Instead, we pull up the bed sheet, and bury our face beneath the pillow. If we lay still, very, very still, perhaps he will pass on by.
Meanwhile, out in the darkness, Kesyer Soze laughs his mocking laugh. His legacy cemented; by our fear.
Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.