by Atul Hatwal
When Ed Miliband became leader of the Labour party, a rhetorical ratchet was installed in the machinery of Labour politics. Since then, the only direction of travel permissible for Labour’s public statements has been to the left. The only criticism of the leadership allowed has been from the left.
Now, as the party’s poll lead dissolves, the consequences of this ratchet for Labour’s electoral chances are becoming increasingly clear. Two incidents from the past week – one on policy and one on process – exemplify the depth of the party’s problems.
First, on policy, there was Andy Burnham’s performance on Newsnight.
Labour has a perfectly defensible and reasonable policy on the use of private healthcare in the NHS: it can only be used to supplement rather than replace public provision. In practice, it means that the private sector would only be used to clear backlogs. It’s how the last Labour government operated.
But, faced with the need to demonstrate how Labour policy has progressed since 2010, the ratchet has forced Andy Burnham to the left, beyond the point of incoherence.
Because of the ratchet, a centrist dividing line on health based on Labour competence versus Tory incompetence is impossible. Instead, Labour has opted for an ideological frame of public good versus private bad with Labour promising to roll back the private.