As the coalition coalesces, Labour must not cede the centre ground, argues Benjamin Wegg-Prosser

Labour types will have found last weekend rather curious: an interview with the PM of which we felt no sense of ownership; front page stories on splits at the heart of government which did not raise our blood pressure; and talk of leadership contests which we could not dismiss as an irrelevant side-show.
The idea that being out of office is something which we should welcome and embrace is clearly bonkers.  But it is an enforced opportunity to reflect on what we achieved and where we came up short over the past 13 years.  The fact that the Tories are making the weather – and the audacity of the new coalition is nothing if not a remarkable piece of political manoeuvring – should renew our appetite for a swift return to government.
In short, Cameron’s move presents both an opportunity and a problem for us.  The former is clear: he has not reformed his party; he was unable to push through the changes which he wanted in opposition, so he has rather skilfully turned his own failure to secure a majority to his distinct advantage, marginalising the policies and people whom he wanted to junk but could not do so prior to the election.
The problems this causes for Labour have not yet been widely acknowledged, but I can’t see anything other than an electoral pact or a formal merger as being the logical conclusion of the coalition.  I know that in Europe it is perfectly common for governing partners to challenge each other at general elections, but these cultures have emerged over decades, not over a weekend of negotiating.
Should the Tories and Liberals fight a combined campaign at the next general election, they will challenge Labour on the centre ground, an area which is still the pivotal battlefield in British politics.  If the coalition encourages Labour to move off the centre, thinking that there is new space elsewhere to be colonized, no one would be happier than the coalition government.
So, while we should welcome the fact that the coalition gives us the opportunity to define ourselves more clearly against our opponents and engage with disaffected Liberal Democrats, we should not see this as permission to move off the electoral landscape which we dominated in 1997, 2001 and 2005.
To do anything other than fight on the ground where we know elections are won will condemn us to as many leadership elections and years of opposition as the Tories have lately suffered.  We are better than that.
Benjamin Wegg-Prosser was Director of Strategic Communications in Tony Blair’s Downing Street.

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One Response to “As the coalition coalesces, Labour must not cede the centre ground, argues Benjamin Wegg-Prosser”

  1. Jules Wright says:

    too late BW-P. labour ceded the centre on may 11th. well, it was evicted actually. you’ll need to find somewhere else to pitch your tent. come on lad, do catch up!

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