August is hell.
Naturally then, it's now Labour and their hangers-on that are having an attack of the jitters. Quite why is difficult to ascertain: it's not as though things have changed dramatically. The party still has a lead in the opinion polls, even if it has been somewhat reduced; the economic recovery, such as it is, is hardly secured, and for now is likely a mirage outside of the south east; and despite the best efforts of the Tories, no one out in the real world gave a toss about the supposed selection scandal involving Unite up in Falkirk. The problem more than anything is that Labour has been relying on both the economy remaining stagnant, despite Ed Balls having accepted there would be growth by the time of the next election, and the Tories remaining about as popular as they are, difference being they're the ones in government.
True, there's more than something in the criticisms from the few backbenchers who say the party doesn't seem to know what it's for, isn't offering an alternative, or managing to make the agenda. Nor though for the most part is the government doing the latter; when it does, such as with the "go home" campaign, it's also far from clear as to whether or not the effect has been positive. Policy is stuck in a groove: the Tories characterise it as Labour opposing every cut, while in actuality it tends to be "we wouldn't be doing this if we were in government now but most likely won't alter it if we win the next election". It's opposition in spirit only, while still taking a hit.
The odd thing is that on the whole, Ed Miliband has set out the general themes that the party needs to be focusing on. The squeezed middle might be the least well defined social grouping in history, but living standards will undoubtedly dominate come 2015. He set out a critique of predator capitalism, for which he was widely mocked by the media at the time, and yet tax avoidance by multinational corporations has become an issue as never before, while the spread of zero-hour contracts has exposed what a nonsense it is that employment law is in some way holding business back. One Nation Labour has not been explained quite as well, but the potential is still there, especially as the Tories look set to go for a doctrinaire right-wing manifesto come 2015. Should Scotland vote no next year, it certainly won't be due to gratitude for the coalition government.
Labour's problem isn't then just due to indecision within the party itself, it also reflects the sad state of politics more widely in the country. We're told endlessly that politicians are all the same, yet present the electorate with an alternative and they don't want that either. Up until very recently they thought cuts were unfair and harming the economy, but they didn't want to take the risk of loosening up, reflected through the lack of anything approaching street opposition as austerity as has been seen elsewhere in Europe. The closest they've come to approving of an outsider is Nigel Farage for goodness sake, about as alternative as John Bishop is to Michael McIntyre. This is where some of the criticism of Labour's current position gets silly: John Harris bemoans how Labour has missed the digital revolution, as though "a viral video" or a few more tweets from Balls and Miliband could make the difference. You might have thought it would have been cleaved into a few skulls by now that only politics nerds and journalists are interested in passing Twitter frenzies, let alone such pointless campaigns as trying to ban page 3, but apparently not.
In effect, the main reason behind the whinges is that Labour isn't doing quite as well as it was. It's not anything more deep seated than that. How could it be? Despite the despair of the likes of Dan Hodges or the equivalent from the opposite side by Owen Jones, the party remains where it is because it doesn't think the general public wants it any further left or right than where it currently is. What's more, the opinion polls back them up. Hardly any MPs voice outrage at what the coalition is doing to the welfare state, how Serco and G4S are not that far off from running the country or how the Tories seemed to have settled on creating growth through encouraging another housing bubble, for the precise reason that it's exactly what they would do if they were suddenly foisted into power. Sure, they might do things ever so slightly differently, but not massively. The most anger we've heard from a Labour MP recently has been Stella Creasy, and that was about fucking Twitter again.
More pertinently, why make the effort when the next election will be decided in such a small number of seats again? For the Tories to win a majority they have to increase their share of the vote, something a party in government hasn't managed in a very long time. They seem to think they can achieve this feat through repeating the same Lynton Crosby-honed themes over and over for the next two years: Labour is weak; Labour got us in this mess; Labour are the welfare party. Given a shorter timescale it might work, but keep it up for too long and it'll just become tiresome, even for those who don't pay attention. The result we might have to face is another hung parliament, another five years of conglomeration and drift. And the sad thing is, no one seems particularly upset by the prospect so long as they've got some hold on power.