In the run up to tonight’s Progress event , we have been publishing a series of pieces on what is required for Labour to secure a majority in 2015. Here, David Talbot sees the political pendulum swinging back to the centre of the Labour party.
Something strange happened in New York in November 1783. It was a fundamental change of order; the collapse of an established Empire. Mounted on a grey horse, George Washington marched down Manhattan at the head of his victorious army. At the same time, British redcoats headed frantically in the opposite direction. When they reached the southernmost tip of the island, they clambered into longboats and rowed out to the remaining Royal Navy ships waiting in the harbour.
For a while it looked as if this might be a blow from which the Empire would never recover. A similar, though mercifully less bloody, scenario befell Manchester in 2010. Mounting the aptly red-soaked stage, Ed Miliband had emerged victorious as the new leader of the Labour party. Looking across the massed banks of his newly-acquired army he pointedly declared the ushering in of a “new generation”. At a stroke the old order fell. The equivalent of the British redcoats, let’s call them Blairites, beat a hasty retreat.
Much like the British army, who didn’t actually formally leave the United States until 1815, a small redoubt of those clinging to the old order within the Labour party have remained resolute. Flying the flag for a forgotten creed this militia are tough on the deficit, restrained on public spending, open to union and party reform, and unremittingly wedded to a centrist, fiscally credible, Labour party. Much like the thousands of loyalists who were left as the last Royal Navy ship left the New York shore, they have been ostracised from and punished by the triumphant forces.
But with the polls forever narrowing and the general election emerging through the midst the Labour party can go one of two ways. It can have its marches and rail against the cuts; it can take fifty per cent of your income; it can promise to cut your energy bill, build your home, and keep your press pure. But without economic credibility it is nothing.
At the turn of the 19th century America may have been lost, but India had been secured, the West Indies were never left, and Australia had been tentatively probed – the latter largely on the basis of James Mario Matra, an American diplomat committed to the old order. Thus, when Britain opened a new chapter on Empire, those who had largely been forgotten proved to be part of its future rather than consigned to its past.
Thirty years on from the day Washington marched proudly down Manhattan the Union Jack fluttered triumphantly over the fields of Waterloo. The Empire had struck back.
David Talbot is a political consultant