by David Talbot
Labour might still easily lose, in 2015, an election it really ought to win. If that is indeed what happens, the reason, as so often with the Labour party, is that it will have operated in the world it so dearly wishes it to be, rather than the cold, rather more sobering, reality.
It will be because it didn’t understand what voters told it in 2010. It will be because unveiling daft posters, available, incidentally, at the not very One Nation price of £35, and talking of the “same old Tories”, lamenting their cuts and their rich friends, is far easier than undertaking a soul-searching examination of why the party was so comprehensively buried in 2010. It will be because it preferred to spend time in the seminar room, talking to nobody but itself, pontificating wildly on the politics of Neverland. This will be, as always, most soothing for the Labour movement. It will have its high-mindedness, and its piety, and it will lose.
The Labour party cannot win in this state of deluded comfort, revelling in the opportunities for moral indignation that austerity affords, whilst simultaneously saying nothing of note to the nation.
If there was a pain-free option, the Labour party would, of course, take it. In this make-believe world of Labour thinking, when, not if, Labour are elected in 2015 the party will have to impose no cuts, spending will be allowed to increase on nice things like the health service, and grateful voters will at last acknowledge they made a dreadful mistake in 2010 by voting for those ghastly Tories. This inability to face the truth is deeply worrying for those, which now include, seemingly, the Labour leadership, who believe the party has spent the past three years either saying the wrong thing or nothing at all.
On the great issues of the day too often there has come has come either silence from the Labour party or scorn from the labour movement. By wallowing in the trough of political invective, the Labour party doesn’t seem to have realised that it long ago lost the argument.
At no stage has there been any sense that the best response is not to get angry, but to get even. With twin speeches last week Miliband and Balls have, at last, grasped this, and initiated the long journey from utopia to realism. It will be difficult, it will be painful and it is a must.
Until the public believe that Labour has taken responsibility for its past and pledged to behave differently in the future, it will not be entrusted come 2015. The party has been repentant on many things since 2010, but never on the economy, partly, one suspects, through sheer bloody-mindedness and partly, no doubt, to the fear that a party of the left might struggle to define its purpose without money to spend.
An age of austerity ushers in the semi-existential threat for Labour of what it means to be when there is no money. Balls, with his talk of “iron discipline” and having to “govern with much less money around” is preparing the way for a very painful entry to government for vast swathes of the Labour party.
Since 2010 the debate amongst the Left has been clear for self-appointed bastions of the labour movement to parade their synthetic anger, burnishing their anti-coalition credentials with dire warnings of a return to the Dickensian-era, and of ministers who cut because they enjoy hurting the poor. The tacit admission from Balls’ speech, though, is that it will now be impossible to avoid setting out, in quite the most excruciating detail, where the Labour axe would fall. There are many painful years ahead and there will be no Labour government if it cannot be imagined as a party that will cut spending.
As the votes come in on May 7 2015, the acceptance or not of what Messrs Miliband and Balls have outlined last week will serve as a reminder of how far the party had fallen by 2010, and how far it still has to climb.
David Talbot is a political consultant