So the votes have all been counted and, after an agonising week, we now have a new government and, yes, it’s one we don’t like – but with a twist: the Liberal Democrats are now with the Conservatives and, for the first time since 1945, have representation in the cabinet as a result.
But as the anger and feelings of betrayal start to subside we must ask ourselves some questions as a party, and as always with election defeats there are some tough ones among them. It is vital we begin to seek answers to these questions now if we are to elect a new leader soon.
In some ways, we can take heart from the hung parliament: it shows that people did not fully endorse the Conservatives, and whilst we might grudgingly admit that some Lib Dems could smooth the rougher edges of a Tory government, we must also consider that people are asking for a different kind of politics from us now, and that we must behave as a party repentant of its past and ready for government again.
Secondly, we need to reflect all of this in our choice of leader. We need a leader open to new ideas, prepared to rethink some of the more controversial aspects of our time in government (ID Cards, for example?), and above all prepared to listen. Equally, however, we need a tough and resourceful leader who has cabinet experience, who is liked by the British public, who is Prime Ministerial and who has not been embroiled in the expenses row.
I believe anyone well qualified to be shadow chancellor is best advised not to run, because we need a strong leader in that position regardless, one who can take on the “shallow” chancellor at the despatch box and exploit the Lib Dem/Tory differences over bonuses for bankers and other issues which the City has seemingly yet to learn from. Fighting back against that perception has public appeal, and could work as a lynchpin in Labour’s attempts to return to office.
I think you can guess from this that I have a fairly clear idea who I want to see in both roles, but am at the moment waiting to see who else will stand and am still formulating my opinions before making a decision. One thing is for certain, however, and that is that we must never, never return to the mistakes we made in 1979, lurch to the left and assume that we will just waltz in within a few years. The Conservatives presumed they could waltz into power. Now, however, they find they have a government built on uncertain foundations. A return to government can happen for Labour, and relatively soon, but only if we work hard and have humility.
Above all, we now see a new era in British politics and a further clear gap between the social democrats and the liberal right. Let’s take advantage of that and reflect our advantage in our choice of leader.