Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Labour's lost one hundred days

"'S e a chiad ceud an ceud as fhasa." - The first hundred is the easiest hundred.

Never mind the coalition, how is Labour doing after 100 days in opposition?

At the shadow cabinet summer drinks party for the media, before Westminster broke for the long holiday, none of the politicians appeared to be members of a defeated party.

They all seemed to be demob happy after a gruelling election campaign and, let's be honest, a final two years in power that were at times excruciating.

But as an opposition they have left a vacuum for the first hundred days of the collation government.

Gordon Brown quit the field immediately and has scarcely been seen since, which was a mistake on all kinds of levels.

He left Alistair Darling fighting his own personal rearguard action against George Osborne who is involved in a deceitful re-writing of Labour's handling of the economic crisis.

So far Darling has been proved right on just about everything so when he warns that the Tories are gambling with the recovery and jobs by cutting spending too quickly, then you ought to be worried. (I only have the full text of his Donald Dewar lecture in a Labour Party e-mail, I'll try to find a link).

Just as history might prove Darling correct so it might judge Gordon Brown, for all his faults as a Prime Minister, as exactly the right man in the right place when the banking tsunami hit in 2008.

But that is the past. Since May Labour has been involved in what David Cameron kindly refers to as the electoral equivalent of a Star Trek convention - the most interminable leadership contest known to man.

The Labour leadership contest, which comes to a close at the time of the conference - just when all those activists who didn't choose the eventual winner are in the one place at the same time - has caused barely a ripple on the political pond.

Diane Abbott aside, there is no break-out candidate among the five contenders, no one prepared to completely recast the party or renounce the past. Not that they feel like doing that. As I said, you don't get a sense from any of them that they were defeated.

The trouble is, of course, that all the candidates are part of that past. David Miliband, who has done most of the running, has done the most to put some distance between himself and the government he sat in.

Mind you, being in government was the making of him. He grew in stature in the Foreign Office and does look like the one who could not just be leader, but Prime Minister too if a bus ran over the Tory-Lib Dem wedding reception.

Andy Burnham appeals some of my Labour friends because of his "ordinary" credentials, Ed Miliband for his oratory skills, but the complex voting system makes predicting a winner impossible.

One thing is sure, the winner has to start creating a constructive alternative to the government or the the "new politics" - Thatcherite cuts with a progressive front - will become the accepted convention. The political landscape could be reshaped around Labour before the party finds its feet again.

And the other lot, the Tory LibDem coalition, - they're doing fine. The polls show that most people buy into the idea of an austerity. But cuts always sound fine until they close your local library or local school, don't they?

The man himself, David Cameron, looks to be loving every minute of being in office. I don't doubt the responsibility he carries - a war in Afghanistan, an unprecedented economic deficit - but he wears it all very lightly.

In, er, a rival newspaper he gives his own assessment of the first 100 days, pledging to go at lightning speed to roll out his political agenda in the full knowledge that the government will run out of road, and goodwill, very quickly.

As usual it is the human detail that we love. He goes to bed early and gets up early to read alone before the household wakes and the traffic noise starts. He looks at the diary for the day and thinks: " Right, there's a whole set of stuff today which I have never done in my life before. I had better make sure I do it properly." He sounds confident enough.

And the Lib Dems? I see Shirley Williams in the Guardian and Simon Hughes
putting down markers as rebel leaders (one of them has to crack at some point) but they'll get through their conference and have their crisis next year, no doubt, in the referendum campaign.

Faced with wipe out in the polls if they break the alliance the Lib Dems have nowhere else to go except further into the arms of the Conservatives.

Everyone predicts that they will reap a whirlwind at the Scottish elections next May. Other parties should be careful about rubbing their hands in glee without first working out where these votes will go in each constituency. Neither should they count their chickens too early.

It is hard to see incumbent Lib Dem MPs and MSPs in rural Scottish seats being turfed out unless they have gone out of their way to personally offend a large number of people their constituency.

I see Danny Alexander this morning tweeting to let us know how busy his constituency surgery in Fort Augustus was today. Jo Swinson maintains a similar level of furious paddling in the constituency to keep the profile high and keep the local politics strictly all things to all people.

The Lib Dems are in the coalition for keeps, that's certainly how the Tories view being in government too. As Cameron said, the government is making the political weather just now, Labour has no wind in it's sails yet.

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