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Tuesday, December 16, 2008 

Do we really want Labour to win the next election?

As critical as this blog often is of piss-poor journalism which makes assumptions based on the "facts" as they currently are, such group-think obviously occurs on blogs as well. No one supposedly saw the financial crisis coming, apart from a few Cassandras, just as no one saw 9/11 coming. Likewise, ever since the end of Gordon Brown's so-called "honeymoon", blogs and political journalists, including this one, have been almost unanimous in their conclusion that New Labour is finished and that the Conservatives are going to form the next government, although the size of their win is what has prompted the most debate. Some, it must be said, still favoured the idea that we were heading for a hung parliament, but the opinion polls which suggested leads at some points of up to 20 points for the Tories dampened down even that.

Here we are then, having declared the downfall of Labour, and yet thanks almost solely to the bleak economic outlook and the perceived handling of it so far by Brown and Darling, Labour are back within touching distance of the Conservatives, with tomorrow's ICM poll for the Grauniad, which only last month showed a 12-point Tory lead, now suggesting that Labour are just five points off. All things considered, it's still difficult to imagine Labour getting a result at the next election which doesn't either reduce their majority down to almost single figures or wipe it out completely, and we are after all just heading into the recession rather than coming out of it, when it will be the bleakness of January and February rather than the slightly more upbeat feeling of approaching Christmas which might finally prompt some to more squarely place the blame for the recession rather than just side with those who they think will best steer us through it. An awful lot can also yet happen before Brown has to call the election in 2010, but the possibility of a fourth consecutive Labour term is now much higher than it seemed to be just six months ago.

Thing is, because we assumed that the Conservatives were going to win, we put more thought into how bad they would be as the new government than we have into the idea of just how awful a fourth Labour term might turn out to be. After all, it's not as if the third term has exactly been a resounding success, is it? Fair enough, going by the first two terms with Blair in change we ought to be grateful that we haven't been plunged into another war, but having had two on the go, both intractable with our troops providing little more than target practice for insurgents of all stripes in both Iraq and Afghanistan, things haven't exactly improved on that score. If anything, we seem ever further bogged down in Afghanistan, the casualties exponentially multiplying, with no one having the apparent slightest idea how we're meant to progress from here, dealing with a corrupt government that barely exists outside Kabul and an insurgency which we're not prepared to talk to, whilst that self-same insurgency gains ever more presence in the country itself. Elsewhere in foreign policy, the hope that Brown's ascendancy might mean the end to the almost open encouragement of force such as in Lebanon in 06 was rather blown away by the open siding with Georgia during this summer's conflict, which achieved exactly zilch.

On the home front, the best that can be said is that for the most part the money invested in the public services hasn't been wasted as some on the right would like to portray it. Waiting times in the NHS are right down, and while the Darzi report was presented, most of the reorganisation that defined the Blair era is either over or has been jettisoned. Education is less rosy: still almost half fail to get 5 "good" GCSEs, and the government's policy of raising the leaving age to 18 will do nothing to help on that score. Also chilling has been the growth of the academies where the joy of learning itself seems to have been completely forgotten, instead replaced by dull conformity that seems more at home in an old dystopian novel than in the here and now. The pace of reform has been much the same as in the NHS, and again, there's little to show for it.

The other biggest growth industry under Labour has been the prison population, now permanently above 80,000, with "titan prisons" proposed; the "good news" to counter-act that has been, unless you completely distrust the figures, that crime has almost fallen off a precipice. Ignoring the debate over whether violent crime has increased or decreased, where you can rely on either set of stats to defend your case, the risk of being a victim of crime is at its lowest since the British Crime Survey began, yet no one believes it, partially because the authoritarian triangulation on crime has not ceased. At the same time the picture on civil liberties has never looked bleaker: ID cards, 42 days detention without charge probably only temporarily postponed, demonstrating within a mile of parliament still banned without permission, databases galore waiting in the wings, the largest number of CCTV cameras in the world, the largest DNA database in the world and much more besides.

It's the economy where for once this is an actual distinct choice for perhaps the first time in 14 years. Either a fiscal stimulus of some variety with either Labour or the Liberal Democrats, in either case adding up to more borrowing, or the Conservative policy of getting the banks lending again as the main priority. If in power, the Tories would probably be doing something similar to what Labour is, but instead they can stand on something resembling the moral high-ground. Likewise, their plans are no longer to match Labour's spending, but similarly they still haven't decided whether they're going to cut taxes straight away or not, apparently not. Combined with this has been irresponsible scaremongering from the Tories of the country going bankrupt, or facing ruin through borrowing more, when almost every economic talking head believes the current level of borrowing, astronomical as it is, to be manageable.

If Labour got back in, we could expect the continuation of much of this, potentially with knobs on. However much those of us on the erstwhile left have been critical of the Labour, we've still mostly held the belief that the Tories would be worse, myself making the argument repeatedly that they represent the new Blairites, who once in power would do the sort of things that Blair wanted to do but was prevented from by backbench rebellion and opposition from the likes of Brown, holding the purse strings and his influence over domestic policy. The question has to be asked with Labour's chances of winning the next election increasing whether this is still the case. Is Labour honestly any better than the Tories would be? The differences, despite the economic upheaval, still seem to be approaching the marginal. As ghastly as the idea is of George Osborne being chancellor, of Nadine Dorries being any sort of minister at all, would we in the end note any great difference? Remarkably, you would never have imagined the Tories as being the party of civil liberties up until recently, opposed to ID cards and the petty surveillance that has become the norm. That, on its own however, especially when you certainly consider that much of the opposition would probably flake away once in power, is not enough to make the thought any less encouraging, especially when combined with their policies on "fixing" the "broken society" and the return to the open bribing of the middle classes. It would of course be nice if neither could form the next government, but the closest we could feasibly manage would be a Lib Dem-Labour or Tory coalition, where their influence might well lessen the blow but then also corrupt those who see them as some sort of alternative, however laughable that also seems.

Getting tired or bored of a government after three terms is to be expected, but it's only when that government itself becomes tired or bored of being the government that it falls. This was what happened after 1992 to the Tories, and did seem to be happening to Labour, yet the recession which should have buried the chancellor who claimed to have abolished boom and bust has instead energised the zombie that was shambling towards the bullet. Let's not kid ourselves that Labour has been in any way genuinely refreshed by it, but it does now still have a purpose which it perhaps didn't prior to September this year. It can still win a fourth term. It's whether it deserves to, and frankly, it doesn't. But neither do the Conservatives deserve to form a government. We the electorate seem to be stuck between a rock and a hard place, or rather between two parties only distinguishable almost by their sameness. Some might say we deserve better; I wonder if we do. Perhaps only when we have become fed-up with the offerings of both will we deserve better, and that still seems some way off. Perhaps we can flip a coin in the meantime. For now, we probably would be better off with the devil we know, but by the torturous way I've come to that statement through this post hopefully suggests just how conflicted I am, someone who ought to be a natural Labour supporter. Labour might not be finished just quite yet after all.

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"Should of buried"?

Shame on you.

Good to see it's the cut of my jib and not my grammatical mistakes which are inspiring comment.

The cut of your jib is good, I vote Lib Dem anyway nowadays, the Tories are policy light under Cameron becuase when they had policy, it was deeply offensive, backward thinking stuff that Labour then stole.

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