Left Out Liberal

A left-wing/liberal look at the UK's General Election of 2005.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Analysis: Labour Suffers

A majority of 66 may be a struggle for Tony Blair. By historial standards, 66 should be enough to drive through most normal legislative programmes.

But this is not history. And Tony Blair's legislative programmes certainly are not "normal". They are aggressive, statist and authoritarian, something which doesn't sit too well with a lot of traditional Labour backbenchers. There is a culture of rebellion setting into the party. The last parliamentary session had unprecedented levels of it. Once you rebel once, it makes it easier next time. Notch up more than a couple, and you suddenly become a real troublemaker for the whips.

Hilary "Strongarm" Armstrong, still Blair's Chief Whip, is going to have a lot of work on her hands this Parliament. The reason for this is very simple...

1997 and 2001 elected tidal waves of new MPs. Most of these MPs are unquestioningly loyal to the New Labour project. They file through the lobbies without thinking, and a number of them are well equipped with Autopilot oratory, a la Dr John Reid, which allows them to open their mouths to release a stream of Blairite anti-Conservatism, anti-Lib Dems, authoritarian mumbo-jumbo and tired, worn out cliches about hard-working families and those who play by the rules. Such clowns were richly rewarded with government posts.

The trouble was that these people were those elected at the height of the Labour swing from the Conservatives and were sitting on tight majorities of no more than a few thousand. They were ripe for the chop if ever the circumstances were right.

But the Tories just flatlined. In some seats they could manage an extra 1 or 2%, but it wasn't enough to clinch it. So they needed some extra help.

The help was provided by the Lib Dems. Labour supporters who couldn't bring themselves to vote Tory were given plenty of reasons to vote Lib Dem, least of all the war in Iraq or the general issue of "Can we trust Tony?" but it went further than that. Given all that we had heard about the Lib Dem policies, I can't help but feel that many left-wingers will have been pretty keen on the 50% tax for over £100,000 income proposals, on top of student tuition fees, ID cards and others.

So traditionally loyal Labour voters deserted the party in their droves. More than a million people appear to have moved from Labour to the Lib Dems. Given turnout rose very little, it is hard to draw any other conclusion. The result...

47 Labour losses. And when you analyse these losses carefully, you may come to the same conclusion as me, that these were no great losses. In fact, if Labour had to lose anywhere, these are the best places in which it could happen.

Using TheyWorkForYou.com, I have analysed the MPs that lost their seats. Out of the 47, 11 were new candidates that had never been MPs before. Given that many of them will be parachutings in to replace retiring Labour MPs (who were more likely to rebel), these are no real worry.

In my classifications, 21 of the remaining 36, nearly 60%, would be classed as "uber-loyal"... that is they had moderate or strong support for every policy. Three of these were government ministers and one was an ex-minister. No more than a few of these uber-loyal MPs had dithered on Iraq, but they had all at some point expressed support. One of the greatest pleasures of the evening was seeing ultra Blair-bitch Lorna Fitzsimons be dethroned by a tidal wave of liberalism. Her vapid, fawning speeches in the Commons have been the source of much nausea for me.

Another 12 were classied as loyal or very loyal. These people may or may not have rebelled or dithered on Iraq. Some of them may also have voted against one other contentious policy. The remaining 2 - yes, just 2 - had rebelled more than twice and had anti-war credentials.

As I said, no great loss. This serves as an important rebalance to the fundamentals of the Parliamentary Labour Party. It puts more power in the hands of principled rebels who are not willing to see Blair riding roughshod over Parliament and the fundamental liberties of this country. ID cards could be difficult. More wars could be difficult if the Tories oppose. They will certainly hold out for fair deals on pension and welfare reform. This will force more consensus in government - a very good thing. As most other commentators have concluded, it will also ensure Blair does not survive the full four years. Challenges to the leadership are unlikely, unless the number of rebels prepared to pay the price is large... but Blair will find some point to hand over the reins of power for a quiet transition and coronation.

Blair has never governed with such a low majority before. Sure, he has lead a party in opposition, but as we all know, it is very easy to be against things. Back then they had a focus for their anger - John Major and the Conservatives - and it was very easy to traipse through those division lobbies against the government. But now they have to lead, and not everyone likes to be lead. There will be struggles and there will be battles... particularly if Labour continues to lead as if it did have a massive majority.

That is the issue. Labour's mandate in this election is very weak. The lowest percentage of the popular vote in history for a winning party which has translated into a pretty comfortably majority, and with a low turnout, this should make things more conciliatory. But Blair does not work like that. He has massive programmes of "reform" (that's what he thinks) and "great vision". The country has shown that it does not share that vision, regardless of the outcome.

Labour have suffered. Their response? An Orwellian creation of the Ministry of Love Department of Productivity, Energy and Industry will ensure that we all work hard to Deliver Labour's Key Third Term Reforms!

The next four years will prove very interesting for us all. We expect a different style. I hope we see it, for the sake of the country.


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