Labour Party talk at the moment is dominated by a leadership battle that is set to last the entire summer. This means that until at least September 24 rather than looking outwards towards the electorate we will be looking inwards at ourselves. Nick Cohen points out that we may not have the luxury of prolonged introspection:
[Labour’s] unstated assumption is that the coalition government is secure, and will last a full term: Labour has all the time in the world to determine its future direction. That assumption may be right, but there are no guarantees. The coalition could prove to be highly unstable. To understand why you only have to look at the miserable faces of Liberal Democrats, who feel they are making a nonsense of their whole lives by allying with the Tories, and the equally wretched expressions of Conservatives who feel that Cameron has conned them into joining a mushy centrist enterprise that will do nothing to advance their cause. Labour has to be ready for a snap election if the government falls apart.
So far we are nowhere near ready. The last minute addition of Diane Abbott to the ballot simply underlined the fact that we have failed to get people from outside the Oxbridge/Westminster beltway into senior positions of a party that is meant to represent labour. The clowns on the far left have given up on an independent entity after Respect’s humiliating implosion and now see Abbott as one of two potential routes into Labour. Abbott is a love/hate politician. She is probably a great MP, she may even be a good leader. The same can’t be said of Ken Livingstone whom the silly left are intent on getting back into the London mayoral chair.
It is disappointing that Jon Cruddas, who to me seems switched on, has endorsed Livingstone. It is an academic point though because there is no chance whatsoever that a) Livingstone can win London in 2012 or b) that anything vaguely progressive would be implemented under a new Ken term. There is a credible mayoral candidate in Oona King. But her coverage has been dominated by a internal policy dispute rather than a positive King programme for London. Again: we are looking inwards at ourselves rather than outside at the electorate.
If there are clowns on the left, there are also jokers on the right. Ed Balls is convinced that the reason we lost is that we didn’t go on enough about immigration. ‘Mrs Duffy captured our reality,’ says Ed. In fact, Mrs Duffy captured the unreality. This is the reality. Alastair Campbell remarks, in his diaries, of the Labour left tendency to ‘[i]nhale the right’s propaganda and spew it out in more noxious form’. It’s this sort of thing that allowed Cameron, with some justification, to taunt Balls as the new Alf Garnett of British politics. As Martin Bright said:
Too many Labour politicians and activists were over-impressed by talk of immigration on the doorstep. They think that because the subject was raised again and again, then it is the key to Labour’s failure and therefore its potential future success… Now the Liberal-Conservative government has triangulated to the left on child detention the Labour Party looks at serious risk of becoming BNP-lite if it’s not careful about reining in some of this populist nonsense around immigration.
While all this internecine wrangling is going on, there is a Tory-led coalition that is slashing and burning public services while talking about belt-tightening and communal sacrifice with the grim smirk of those who know that the real sacrifices will be made not by them, but someone else. A government full of pious grandstanding about the ‘new politics’ that lost a senior minister to an expenses scandal just seventeen days into its inglorious tenure. A government that poses as liberal and democratic while rotting from the inside with extremists and crazies. We should be calling them out on all this. There is an enemy out there.