In the Autumn on 2009 Compass published a pamphlet entitled “the last Labour government?”. It was published out of a fear that certain circumstances had the potential to arise that would change the mechanics of UK elections so that they always worked in the favour of Conservatives. This was criticised at the time as being disloyal, as if warning someone that a certain path led to a cliff face would be done with any motivation other than concern for their well being.
That pamphlet was a piece of scenario painting and as such was perhaps easy to ignore because it was also possible that the scenarios presented would not arise. However certain things have come to pass that mean those predictions (while not exact and manifested in ways Compass could not have predicted) seem more possible now than ever.
The Pamphlet rightly predicated that the Tories would gerrymander constituency boundaries through a reduction of seats and equalisation of electorate numbers. This legislation has passed and could cost labour as many as 40 seats.
Another concern of the Compass pamphlet was the break up of the UK. If as some polls predict SNP are able to form their second government in Scotland in the face of a right wing Tory led government at Westminster, it will communicate an important shift in how Scottish social democracy is expressed. The Scottish Labour Party assumed that the Scottish people trusted only them to defend them from the Tories. The rise in their vote at the general election and their history of resisting Thatcherism in the past meant this was a highly believable story – before the polls began to shift. The fact that more Scots are beginning to trust the SNP in the face of a Tory led government means that Scottish independence is closer rather than further away and that would mean the loss of 41 Labour seats.
One thing that connects these two scenarios is the role played by ” small C” conservatives within the Labour Party in creating or exacerbating their damage on Labour. Conservative Labour are Labour’s new old guard – a strange amalgam of fixers concerned with making the machinery of politics work for their personal interest and New Labour die-hards unable to see that the world has turned again.
In Scotland the SNP have managed to hide their weak spot without even trying because the Labour Party have chosen to ignore it. Salmond’s cosy connection with HBOS and Royal Bank have largely been ignored. His stated reliance on Scotland’s financial sector to fund future independence and the collapse of that myth along with the worlds economies (and particularly Ireland’s and Iceland’s) have been overlooked. Those harking back to New Labour and the accommodation of neo-liberalism have not got the analysis, language or credibility to make those attacks. They have no idea what the “Good Society” of Scotland might look like because there has been no space for a left political imagination – so stifled has it been by orthodoxies of old Labour organisation and New Labour economics.
Conservative Labour have also let self-interested conservation of the status quo (because it gave them their seats) blind them from thinking strategically to what is in the wider interest of Labour and the voters. The Act of Parliament that cut the number of constituencies is the same legislation that gave us the AV referendum. In fact some psephologists consider it a way of balancing the apparent gerrymandering of the boundary changes, as can be guessed at by the way the Tories are funding and fighting for the NO campaign – a Yes vote more than cancels out this their advantage. It’s puzzling then why we have people such as Reid, Prescott and Blunkett campaigning vigorously to defeat that safeguard and to hand Cameron an unencumbered fix for Tory advantage.
Conservative Labour are an existential threat to our party. If Labour do not have the ideas for the future but only seek to conserve for self interest then we are not being true to our nature. If we are not true to our nature we become self harming and irrelevant. Its time to put the old guard out to grass and move on.