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Friday, July 25, 2008 

To oblivion or half-way there.

The response by Gordon Brown and the top of New Labour to the catastrophic by-election result in Glasgow East would be comical if it wasn't so deeply sad. It truly is a purest example of the clichéd deer in the headlights - a party that simply has no idea what to do except to keep on doing what it's currently doing. Witness Brown yet again inform us all of how he feels our pain. Witness Des Browne laughably suggest that everyone unite around Brown, as if that wasn't they've been doing, or to suggest that no one votes for disunited parties; they're not voting for you at the moment either though, are they?

The loss of Glasgow East is a terrifying prospect for New Labour because it indicates that the perfect storm which can irrevocably destroy the party is potentially gathering momentum. In Wales and Scotland, Labour is not to any great extent being pressured by the Conservatives; the Tory vote was actually down half a percent last night on the general election. Instead, they're fighting against either the nationalist parties, which are undoubtedly to the party's left, even if their nationalism is parochial and self-serving, and the Liberal Democrats, who despite their apparent recent shift to the right, are still far preferable on most factors to Labour. In England however, the party faces the prospect that despite everything, it isn't right-wing enough. It has to be remembered that the Tories won the popular vote in England in 2005. It was hardly likely to improve upon that next time round, and indeed, it's now staring disaster in the face.

We can take the idea that Labour faces collapse too far, especially when just dwelling on by-election results which are never going to be indicative of what's going to happen two years down the line, and Brown today dropped a huge hint that he will be waiting possibly the full 24 months before having to call the election. At the moment though the picture is utterly bleak: even in the worst of times, Labour should have managed to hold on to seats such as Crewe and Nantwich and Glasgow East. They are overwhelming Labour's rock. For them to be giving Labour such a kicking is a warning that the party, unless it changes its way dramatically, is facing utter oblivion.

The party however has absolutely no idea where to go from here. In fact, it seems to be perversely enjoying the hammering it's receiving. Why else would the party have let James Purnell stand up on Monday and deliver his kicking to the "undeserving poor"? This was a constituency in which a significant percentage of its voters are either dirt poor and in work or dirt poor and out of work. Both, potentially, face becoming the guinea pigs of Purnell's plans. Meanwhile, they can see that despite the regeneration that has occurred in their area under Labour, it's the SNP that are actually in government in the devolved parliament, and what's more, they've abolished prescription charges, they've abolished tuition fees, they haven't introduced the vagaries of the market into the health system, and they haven't tried to appease the very worst imaginings of the right-wing press at every available instance. Come now, who would you have voted for? The only real surprise is that the margin of victory was just 365 votes: that is undoubtedly down not to the national party, but to the efforts of the local party and also Margaret Curran herself. The blow has been so much the harder because Labour had been playing up so much the fact that they were certain they had it in the bag. Not for the first time, it seems that someone can't count.

Perhaps the reality is finally hitting home: it doesn't matter how many relaunches you have, however many times you feebly suggest that you feel pain for the people who you have continuously either kicked in the teeth or not done enough for, or however many changes in policy the unions or Neal Lawson suggest, Labour is simply not going to win the next election. The mood of the country, and that includes the different perspectives in Wales/Scotland and in England, has changed. Again, this isn't by any means all Brown's fault, he's simply picked up the poisoned chalice, however much you can blame him for not putting something aside for the inevitable downturn. He also can't do anything about the so-called "credit crunch", or the rising prices of fuel or food, which the SNP so opportunistically but understandably focused on. Getting rid of him will do nothing to save the Labour brand. The only thing he can do now is what News International is over Max Mosley: limit the damage. It doesn't matter now how much he potentially pisses off the right-wing press, what does is that he makes certain that Labour are not destroyed for a generation because of both his and Blair's mistakes. That does involve listening to the unions, to stopping the attacks on those that can least defend themselves and even, as Tony Woodley suggests, evicting the Blairites. Make clear to everyone that if you're going to go down, you're not going to take everyone with you. That now, apart from ensuring that the slowdown doesn't turn into a deep recession, should be Brown's priority.

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