Crystal ball gazing and 2010
This week has seen some crystal ball gazing by different pundits, Tory and Labour, on the subject of a 2010 election, and what the results might be should Labour win. Neither, I think, have cut to the core of the matter. Blimpish Tory’s article repackages some seriously dodgy truisms as a rule of thumb to understanding elections. Tom Harris, on the other hand, demonstrates a hilarious inverse hubris.
Harris’ intellectual exercise can be dismissed in a paragraph. The internal culture of the Labour Party is such that another election victory would simply sustain inertia. That inertia will shatter Labour, either by defections from the PLP or by the final collapse of CLPs. Gordon Brown and his cohort have not learned to think in different ways, to challenge orthodoxy and so have nothing new to offer.
This is why they’re not going to win in 2010, much less win a convincing majority. Too many factors are obviously conspiring against them, not the least of which is the desertion of even the ‘liberal’ wing of the intelligentsia. Taking into account Chris Dillow’s interesting article on spending, another Labour term, covering a period of recovery, might see the old spartan Treasury logic reasserted – surely a death knell.
Blimpish Tory isn’t interested in hubris but is guilty of vast assumptions and simplifications which don’t bear out, in my view. The relationship of each Party to the electorate is complex, just as the electorate is not a homogeneous mass. Moreover, the ‘message’ of each Party changes over time. It would be silly to assert, for example, that the presentation of the Tory 2010 manifesto will be like 2005.
I genuinely suspect that 2010 will be a landslide victory for the Conservatives, contrary to Tory Blimp’s expectations. The historical contingencies and vagaries which he doesn’t value so highly are coming into alignment: disillusioned trades unionists – probably not helped by the PMs reaction to the wildcat strikes – will not vote Labour. Civil liberties will put people off voting Labour. Stuttering over house building will put people off Labour.
Meanwhile, Michael Howard really was a dream opponent for Tony Blair; he practically frothed at the mouth over things like immigration. That was just about the only thing likely to fire up the declining Labour activist base. Having Lord Ashcroft about to outspend an ailing Labour in the marginals also helps, no doubt – and that financially ailing Labour is a metaphor for the ‘third way’ twits who lead the Party.
That’s not all. Tory Blimp attempts to substantiate his argument by reaching into history to examine other Tory victories from Opposition. Yet the argument ignores the fact of class struggle, which can either sharpen the distinction between Labour and Tory or, depending on the role of the Labour leadership, give an ill impression of the Labour Party and push working class voters towards the opposition.
At the moment, working in the favour of the Tories, is the fact that Labour seems very little different to the Tories from the point of view of workers. A lot of the public money being spent is ‘invisible’, in that people have got used to banks not going under and are still wondering about dilapidated trains and other public services. These have remained private and prices have inclined in this period of recession.
This is essentially because, despite the best efforts of socialist activists, barring certain islands which will be defended to the death, the Labour Party is now owned, lock, stock and barrel, by its leadership. That leadership, and its union cronies, will act to curtail open class struggle – as was shown by Brown’s reaction to the wildcat strikes recently. Workers, therefore, don’t have an alternative, they have two parties of Capital.
I’m not arguing that there aren’t differences. When the private sector moves, as Chris Dillow suspects, to fulfill their expenditure plans once the credit crunch ends, the Tories may or may not be more aggressive in retrenchment of public spending. Nevertheless, both parties are constrained by the same economic logic – thus on the macro scale, Labour is simply a Tory-lite party in different clothing.
Should the Labour clothing prove to be enough, the real fall out of a Labour victory in 2010 would be when chickens come home to roost from ill-planned PFI deals. As has been demonstrated by successive consultants and contract renegotiations, PFI service providers essentially have the government over a barrel as regards bailing them out, should things go sour. This will have ramifications for ‘new’ public spending.
Our Tory Blimp tries to round off his commentary with the assertion that the age of mass politics is over. As with ever concrete, historical movement, such a bald assertion is worthless unless we put it into its material context. My counter-contention would be that the age of mass politics didn’t so much end as was beaten out of existence. It was forcibly replaced with consumer culture, as it represented a threat to capitalism.
I would go on to discuss this in terms of class struggle, social capital and other concepts of political sociology, but I think that deserves a separate article. Suffice it to say, there are only two ways Labour will recover – either by reawakening that spirit of mass politics or by continuing to play the presentation game with the Tories, appealing to the last vested interest standing, Capital, while giving that a social face.
Only one of those routes would I commend and consent to be a part of.