Labour’s Groundhog Year

4th January, 2012 1:00 pm

The New Year. Our thoughts and hopes for the future. A difficult year behind. Another one ahead.

Sound at all familiar?

In the film 1993 film Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays a character who realises that he is getting up to the same song playing on his clock-radio, I Got You Babe, every day and that all the same things are happening in the same order. After a while, he realises that he is stuck in a nightmare where the same day repeats forever: he must change and reinvent himself in order to break out.

Anthony Painter’s LabourList piece summarised rather well how the year has not been a good one. But there’s something more: already we seem to be in danger of restarting our own Groundhog Year, destined to go through the same in 2012.

First, the New Year’s message from Ed Miliband: as Peter Hoskin notes in the Spectator, it’s remarkably similar to last year’s. Yes, there is an important nod towards fiscal conservatism (perhaps the work of my good comrades Painter, Lent, Cooke and Sen in Into The Black Labour did not go unnoticed, after all), but essentially the same points are made. Brave troops inAfghanistan, check. Politicians alienated from the public, check. Optimism, check.

Not that repetition in itself is bad: sometimes you have to bore people to death with your message before they get it, as Peter Mandelson famously observed. But what if the message is simply failing to resonate?

Polly Toynbee disagrees: however her message, as Hopi Sen observed, is also essentially the same as last year’s. We need only hang on in there saying the same thing, and the voters will come round.

Troop-rallying pieces there have been several more, and welcome, up to a point. God knows, Labour’s troops are in need of some morale-boosting. But there is a distinct feeling that we have not moved forward. As a reaction, some have looked to deflect, rebut and generally silence internal criticism. But, as I said at Labour Uncut yesterday, trying to silence criticism is not the answer. It is essentially a position of weakness, not of strength. Besides, the obvious fact is this: it won’t work. The world has changed since 2000, and we can no longer control every blog-post that goes out by an informal system of peer pressure.

There is one very significant difference this year, of course – the polls.  We started 2011 in the lead, but no longer. We are either level, or behind. And our economic polling has been consistently awful all year. Why has this happened, because the coalition has had a brilliant year? No. The coalition has had a terrible year, by any standards. We are still in a sprawling economic crisis with the economy flat-lining and a string of wing-it decisions and policy reversals. We have nowhere to look but inside ourselves, with a little honesty and humility.

This is not a counsel of despair. There is hope and there is time to change. This is a counsel of wake up, people. I Got You Babe is playing, again.

The public may just have generously afforded us a “gap year” during 2011, although this is by no means certain. But they will not give us another.

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