Five reasons to be optimistic despite the Con-Dem Government.
Let’s be honest, Labour losing the election and the Tories getting the keys to number 10 is not, and cannot be considered a good thing. Hard times will come for the country, and the trade union movement, and working people in general. But despite this I think there are some reasons to be cautiously optimistic that this may not be quite as bad as we had feared.
1. The Tories didn’t win.
This election was there for them, the Labour party had been in power for 13 years was becoming deeply unpopular. There was on the doorstep that feeling of “time for change”, which is so hard for a ruling party argue rationally against. We were in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930s, and incumbent governments will always get the blame. The right wing press were as rabidly behind the Tories as they have been in a generation and across the media we had a hugely difficult environment.
But despite all of this, despite this gaping own goal, the Tories somehow conspired to mess it up, and the reality is they are not going to be able to wield absolute power (more on that later). On top of that far from being wiped out the Labour party still has 250 odd seats and will be able to mount an effective opposition.
2. The Labour party have lost their way.
I didn’t want the Tories to get in, and I had (have) no doubt that in a Tory Britain things would get worse for working people. But, I also know that “The enemy of my enemy” only goes so far. The reality is for me 13 years of Labour government has been a crushing disappointment. Despite some early successes (minimum wage, signing the social chapter) in the main the Labour government has not lived up to what I had expected, hoped for and dreamed for growing up in Thatchers Britain.
As a keen student of the history of British politics I had hope for a genuinely radical, transformative agenda such as the Atlee post war government, or Roy Jenkins social reforms in the 60s. Fundamentally we didn’t get that, unfortunately the score card at the end of our most successful period of electoral history, three consecutive governments and 13 years or rule reads:-
The gap between rich and poor got greater, draconian trade union legislation remains in place and the biggest erosion of civil liberty in living memory took place….. And IRAQ.
Losing is never good, but if the Labour party can re-find some of the balance it lost around the turn of the Millennium, then it can refresh and renew and be electable. If nothing else it does afford the opportunity to remember why we are in politics and what the aim is. Harold Wilson said that the Labour party soars best when both its left and right wings are strong. Since Mandleson came back there has only been one game in town and if the Labour party wants to win again we need to change that.
3. It’s a coalition, Not Thatcher with a massive Majority.
We all like to imagine the worst, and for Political reasons it made sense for us to spend the whole election evoking memories of the Worst of Thatcher and Thatcherism. But in the same way as Labour governments are different so are Tory ones. Cameron isn’t Maggie and would have been a different type of leader even if he had won outright.
But the fact that they are in coalition means that they will inevitably have to make compromises, and whisper it, but some of the things that the Libs might get in we might even like. I, and most on the left I imagine, will (though perhaps secretly) cheer form the rafters when ID cards get scrapped, and if they repeal some of the worst aspects of the authoritarian legislation our lot put in.
4. Electoral Reform.
Change needs to happen, our political system is broken. Not only is it manifestly unfair, but the electoral maths of FPTP elections system skews the whole political system in favour of a narrow band of people. Put bluntly middle England, middle class, swing voters in swing seats decide elections. And the whole public policy agenda is therefore focussed on this narrow band of interest.
If we want the possibility of radical, transformative government who will make the world a better place, then the truth is we need to change to rules of the game.
And with this election result it looks like we are going to get a referendum on the Alternative Vote. I don’t think the AV system is fantastic, it is not what I would personally advocate (I am a fan on the STV) but it is definitely a step in the right direction. A small step like this could change politics in the UK forever and for the better. And for me this is a definite silver lining.
5. The Liberal Democrats tarnished.
As a general rule of thumb parties rarely get * more * popular as a result of being in Government. On the contrary normally the opposite is the case. The Libs have clearly benefited from being seen as “outsiders” and “different” and not tarnished by peoples memory of the Tories under thatcher or the current Labour government. This will change, the Liberals are in government. The cuts, and the pain, will be their cuts and their pain.
People often saw them as a “safe” vote if you hated the Tories but couldn’t back Labour. People will surely for a generation not vote Liberal to keep the Tories out again. What this means is that Labour are the only opposition, that if you disagree with the Government you cant vote Liberal or Tory. There is only one credible place to go. It becomes a fantastic opportunity for the Labour party to recover providing the party boxes clever and does not implode. In future when Labour people on the doorstep say “Vote Liberal, Get Tory” people will believe it. And that can only help the Labour party at the next election.
So there we have it things are bad, but maybe not the end of the world. There are 5 reasons for us on the left to be optimistic.