Sunday, August 23, 2015

Labour's slow-motion car crash - and a lesson for the Tories

The point is often well made that people involved in politics should concentrate on getting it right and doing constructive things themselves and not spend all their time insulting their opponents.

I started following Labour's attempt to sort themselves out following their defeat in the hope that it would reveal things which all parties including the Conservatives could learn from, and continued out of a horrified morbid fascination.

The main lessons which Labour appears determined to learn the hard way are two which the Conservatives should have already learned the hard way in 1992-97 and even more so in 2001:

1) Don't form a circular firing squad, and

2) Don't pick leaders with massive appeal to your base of support but who at best look odd to the people you would need to win over to win and at worst have weaknesses your opponents can use to tear you to shreds.

All sides in Labour's leadership election have been firing a degree of venom at one another which is going to make it extremely difficult for the party to work together afterwards.

There is a lesson here for the Conservatives

In less that two years the "In" and "Out" wings of the Conservative party may be tempted to do the same thing to ourselves over the European referendum.

I believe it would be a disaster for the country as well as the Conservatives if we tear ourselves apart over Europe while in government as Labour is now tearing itself apart in opposition.

The memory of what we did to ourselves in 1992-7 is seared into my brain and IT MUST NOT HAPPEN AGAIN.

We must agree to differ over Europe, both sides must put their case in a friendly and civilised way, the country must make what the people think is the best choice, and both sides must respect the judgement of the electorate.

Labour will make their decision about their leader and Conservatives should try to stay out of it. I hope whoever they choose turns out to be a strong leader who can hold the government to account. I also hope it is someone who would be a good Prime Minister because nobody can predict the situation in 2020.

If things go well for the Conservatives and the country, we could have a situation in 2020 where the best imaginable Labour leader would have no chance of winning. But if there is a vicious  referendum campaign, another world recession, and a few "black swan" events we could be in a position where even a weak Labour leader could win, and become a disastrous Prime Minister.

And to anyone reading this who is either a Conservative laughing at the prospect that Jeremy Corbyn would be a disastrously weak leader of the opposition (which he probably would) or a Labour person who thinks that the other Labour leadership candidates are all hopeless so they might as well go for the person they like (a position I understand) ..

I would like to remind you in one word what happened, not just to the opposition  but to the country, last time the main opposition chose a leader who appealed to them and not to the centre ground and he became such a weak opposition leader that the government could get away with anything.


If in 2001 the Conservatives had elected the candidate who appealed to the centre ground instead of the one who appealed to the gut instincts of Conservative activists, then in 2003 Britain would have had a Leader of the Opposition who opposed the invasion of Iraq.

It's not an exact parallel, and none of us know all the challenges of the next few years. But it's why I hope, in the national interest, that Labour elects a stronger leader than I think they are going to.

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