Sunday, September 25, 2005

Politics 2010: Labour

Something I often give a lot of thought to is what the political landscape will look like five years down the line. The maxim is that a week is a long time in politics, and even this year has taken twists and turns no-one expected. After the media's consensus that the General Election was a vote for a "chastened Blair", who would have thought that by July 8th, everyone would have been thanking the Lord for Blair's premiership? Or that he continued to possess the ability to squander such goodwill?

Anyway, at the suggestion of one of my friends, I have decided to make some highly wild and speculative comments about the way that politics will develop by the time of the next election. The three posts are collectively titled "Politics 2010". This is not so much a prediction that PM Brown will need to take the full term to maximise his time in power, as to the fact that it sounds much nicer than Politics 2009.

In any case, for all Brown's popularity now, I can only imagine he will be a disaster as a Prime Minister. Of course, unlike the articles I will write on the other two parties, I am beginning from the presumption that Brown will be PM. There is surely no way Blair can try and twist his way out of his resignation; similarly, there is no other credible contender for the party leadership. However, the promise of the succession may well be something which hamstrings his ability to lead his party effectively.

The trade unions have pinned their hope on Brown as the man who can take Labour back to its more traditional roots. They have suffered Blair for over ten years now; that was their trade-off for power. Now they have power, and the prospect of "their man" in charge, I cannot imagine they will be reticent in the background. If Brown is being genuine in his promise to continue Blairite reform, they will go mad, and a spectre will be cast over his leadership from the start.

More than that, however, it is seeming increasingly likely that there will be an economic downturn in the near future. Blair being the shrewd man that he is will no doubt quietly step aside just before the shit hits the fan, economically speaking. And Brown, coming in from Chancellor, having built his reputation on prudence and putting an end to boom and bust, will end up with hardly a leg to stand on. He'll have to admit to many of his errors quickly; no doubt the vultures will swoop with intimations he rode the crest of a Tory wave.

Perhaps more dangerous than that, though, is the difficulty of winning over Middle England. The primary reason behind Labour's extraordinary and unprecedented electoral success may have been the unpopularity of the Tories, but it has only been so pronounced because Tony Blair appeals to the middle class floating voters more than any other Labour politician. If John Smith's heart attack had never occurred, it is difficult to see Labour currently in their third term. Politically speaking, Brown is far more John Smith than Tony Blair.

My understanding of the Boundary Commission changes is that the well-trumpted imbalances in the electoral system will unwind somewhat in the next election; whilst FPTP may remain a fundamentally flawed system, it certainly won't have the in-built Tory bias it suffered from last time. And voters will vote for Blair when previously the thought of Labour repulsed them. How else is Major's victory in 1992 explicable, if not for Kinnock?

I'm not going to go so far as to guarantee a Labour defeat in the next election. But it certainly wouldn't surprise me if it did happen, in the slightest. Those who expect PM Brown to have a reign that is plain sailing are living in fantasy land. The Labour Party may, very shortly, be longing for another Blair.