Is there a point to the Labour Party any more?

After their defeat in Glasgow, David Osler doesn’t fancy Labour’s chances in the general election:

Just for once, that early morning emptiness in my stomach resulted not from urgent need for a bowl of organic muesli drenched in soya milk, but the realisation that the Tories are now almost certain to form the next two or three governments, minimum.

If a stronghold like Glasgow East can topple that easily, the outlook for 2010 is surely a Labour defeat of 1931 proportions. Those who need a recap of the relevant history could do no better than turn to a book by Ralph Miliband – hey, whatever became of his two boys? – that tells how a governing party was reduced to a rump of just 46 MPs.

I agree that Labour are likely to lose the next election. However, any predictions for elections after that amount to nothing more that guesswork.

Eventually Labour recovered, of course. Miliband notes on page 192 of Parliamentary Socialism: ”Though powerless in parliament, Labour had retained massive support in the country, most of it, obviously, from within the ranks of the organised working class.’

The difference between now and then is that in many constituencies Labour exists largely on paper and working class organisation is at its weakest since the second world war. In short, Labour as we know it may never recover from the coming meltdown.

This is not surprising. Since 1997 Labour have concentrated on pleasing floating voters in marginal constituencies, on the principle that their heartlands have nowhere else to go and can safely be ignored. And the heartlands in their turn are now realising that Labour doesn’t represent them any more and are starting to turn to the SNP (Glasgow East) or independents (Blaenau Gwent). And many former Labour voters are either staying at home or voting for minor parties or extremists (such as the BNP).

Should Brown go? I don’t think that would make much difference. All of the politicians with a realistic shot of becoming Labour leader are indelibly linked to the ancien regime; swapping one New Labourite in a dark suit for another isn’t going to undo the damage New Labourism has wrought.

This is probably right. After 1997, the Tories kept replacing their leader in the vain hope that if they did it often enough the voters would like them again. Whoever is Labour’s leader at the next general election will have to fight it on Labour’s record. And what is that record? Labour have spent lots of money on hospitals, but the quality of treatment and waiting times in the NHS don’t seem to have improved (at least, I can’t detect any improvement). They’ve spent loads of money on education, yet school leavers are no better educated than they were — on the contrary the opposite seems to have happened as the system becomes increasingly dumbed down from GCSE level to postgraduate level.

(The weakness of the educational system is particularly worrying when you consider the rise of China and other far-Eastern countries; Britain must either go as high-tech as possible, as quick as possible, or it’ll have to compete on price with lean and mean low-wage economies. If we don’t watch out, they’ll eat our lunch — and the way food prices are going, that may not be just a figure of speech.)

What of equality and social inclusion? Income inequality as measured by the gini coefficient is higher now than when Labour came into power. House prices in proportion to average earnings are also higher than when Blair entered office, even taking into account the recent downturn in them. So if you’re poor or can’t afford to buy a house, Labour have done bugger all for you.

So overall I think Labour’s record is crap. The only thing they’ve really achieved is reducing the rule of law and making Britain a more illiberal society. And the only reason I’m not pleased by the mess they’re in is I don’t think the Tories would be any better. Cameron talks a good line of bullshit, but that’s all he can do, as far as I can tell.

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