Tuesday, 4 May 2010

An Election Defeat Won't Be the Nadir of Labour's Fortunes...That'll Come Afterwards

So the madness reaches its full flowering. The last 3 days of any election campaign bring forth the fiercest, best honed arguments of each party, the most outrageous slurs on opponents, the most shameless acts of self promotion - but also the strongest sense of self delusion.

The psychological mechanism underlying all this is actually quite simple: the campaign teams and candidates all refuse to believe they can have been working so hard and so long simply to lose. Almost everyone centrally involved in any election campaign is driven a tiny bit bonkers by the effort by the end.

I don't know what is going to happen on Thursday - except that, of all the possible outcomes, a Labour majority seems the most unlikely. This has immediate consequences: it means that Labour is going to be engaged in selecting a new Leader for several months to come. It is very hard to imagine it managing to hang together in public sufficiently during this process to meaningfully enter into negotiations with any other party. Already the Telegraph is carrying news of an incipient Mandelson-Harman post election feud. But there are deeper things to resolve than the personal enmities of two politicians of a generation whose time is passing. Any leadership election would have to be a postmortem on the whole New Labour project.

So Cameron might be able to govern on his own, even with a minority, for want of any effective opposition. Clegg is going to have relatively few negotiating options even if he holds the balance of power. Of course, something still depends on the precise balance of seats - broadly speaking the fewer Tories get elected the more of a breathing space Labour has to regroup.

But the cuts are coming after the election and there seems every prospect that the Labour Party will neither be in a position to carry them out as (part of) a government nor in a position to attempt to put itself at the head of opposition to to those cuts because of its internal distractions and ideological exhaustion.

Which does rather raise the question of what the Labour Party is actually going to be for in the next decade.

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