Labour is the third party, get used to it

14 January 2012

This has been a terrible week for the Labour leader – truly, bone-crunchingly
awful. Inevitable comparisons have been made with the IDS era of the Tory wilderness years, but this is different because it is Labour. Conservative leaders are trophies, symbols of the best or
worst the party can aspire to at any given time. But Labour leaders are expected to embody hopes and dreams: they are pragmatic Utopianism made flesh. If all political careers end in failure, then
Labour leaders always fail better. Could Ed Miliband fail best of all?

Patrick O’Flynn of the Express tweeted this week that the Labour Party’s irritation at their ideas on executive pay
being poached by the government reminded him of how the Lib Dems used to behave. I think he is on to something. It took the Tories a long time to learn how to do opposition after they lost power in
1997. They still felt that power had been somehow stolen from under their noses, despite the obvious message of the Blair landslide. Long years passed and it was only really when David Davis began
to take chunks out of Home Office ministers that they really became a fighting force, holding the government to account. Only then could they start on the task of looking like a potential
government, a job they had only half-cracked by 2010.

One of the many difficulties for Labour is that it is the Official Opposition, but effectively only the third party. The sooner it realises this the better. Labour just does not matter all that
much. Having its ideas filched is the best it can hope for, at least for the time being. Humility is the best lesson Ed Miliband can learn: not the humility of the humiliated, but the humility of
the humble.

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  • rndtechnologies786

    Your blog is nice.

  • emale

    The problem for Labour is ideological. It has, for years, proposed a view of society which it describes as “fair” which will happen because of something called “social justice” brought about by enacting “progressive” policies.

    Without exception, these involve the diversion of resources from the wealth creating sector of the economy to the wealth consuming sector.

    Unfortunately owing to the inefficiencies deeply embedded in that sector, ever more money is required to make even the smallest of changes. All this results in deficit and debt. Which is where we are now.

    Labour has spent most of the past twenty years promising to increase public spending financed by more and more borrowing. Its credibility as a cutting party is zero – it has nothing to offer an electorate which has seen, rather too late, that Labour’s policies have left Britain in a perilously weakened condition. They deserve to be and I hope they will be utterly humiliated.

  • cuffleyburgers

    @ Matthew Blott – privatised bank profits/socialised losses is not capitalism and although you may (depressingly ) be right that the tories wouldn’t have done much different that is because they are barely a free market party any more having swallowed Blairs third way bollox hook line and sinker.

    Most people on the free market right are aghast by the screwing of working families to “bail out” failed banks – the problems of the bubble were caused by Gordon brown’s incompetent changes to regulation and the labour government was to stupid to pay any attention to the attendent asset price inflation.

    To say Labour are third party now is incorrect. They are third rate, intellectually and morally; as are the tories (with a few honourable exceptions (and there are also some decent labour pols but none in the shadow cabinet)) – there are no exceptions among the limp dems so far as I can see.

    Labour are quite obviously second party, libdems a fast fading third with UKIP coming up on the inside.

    What this country at present lacks in common with most countries, is a free market, small government party.

    The blame for that lies with machine politics, if one good thing comes out of the current crisis which has been caused more than anything else by the eyewatering hubris and incompetence of the governing class in the western world, it will be a realization that labour-style policies as practiced also by the current government, lead directly to impoverishment and eventually slavery.

  • david

    Errr There is once huge difference between Labour in opposition compared to the Tories, its about 100 more seats. When the Tories lost in ’97 it was so big that there was no possibility they could win enough seats to return to power for 2/3 elections. Not so Labour, the Tories didn’t even win an overall majority last time, there’s no certainty they will next time. Labour haven’t made it easy for themselves with Ed.M. but it ‘aint impossible.

  • redmayne77

    Yes indeed. Destroy the NHS and the health servces and the nthe poor will starve or die so no more Labour voters. This will take a few elections but it can be done then socialism will be dead and conservatives can rightfully reclaim the mantle of decency.

  • Matthew Blott

    What Downtown and others say about Labour causing our financial mess isn’t entirely fair. True, they haven’t been good Keynsians and watches spending or observed Gordon Brown’s overused “prudence” but the eye-watering sums demanded by the banks to stop cash machines drying up was entirely the fault of deregulated high finance that had run out of control. Sure, it happened on Labour’s watch but to pretend conservatives would have reigned in their paymasters is laughable. It’s been one of the neatist political tricks in modern times that this crisis has been turned into an attack on the welfare state.

  • Downtown

    I respect many things that Labour stands for, and in the past they provided much-needed balance to help the less well-off. But a lot of the underdog and “hate Tories” stuff is now just so 20th century. We need to move on.

    The essential problem is the Labour party still does not understand that you cannot spend more than you earn indefinitely without a reckoning, which is what we are now going through. Both Labour governments in the last 30 years have bankrupted the country. And they still will not admit they got it wrong. Did anyone else notice Ed Miliband slip a phrase into the interview yesterday that the Tories were to blame for the parlous state of the national finances?

    Sadly, there are actually people out there who can rationalise that statement and believe it. The capacity for denial in the face of facts to the contrary is impressive, and expecting to be the Government in 2015 despite a second to none record of economic incompetence (or is it incontinence?).

  • Paulg

    Labour leaders are Utopianism made flesh.. isn’t that just another way of saying deluded.
    As for gromit coming up with any ideas,thats hard to believe when Jesse Norman has already articulated this position,with insight, anaysis and understanding.

    Gromit just stands there mouthing platitudes, there is no graps of what hes actually saying.

    His ideas are completely unworkable and illegal. You would need an Act of Parliament to destroy the economy and whilst that was going on,everyone with shilling would be on their toes out of the place.

  • mattghg

    pragmatic Utopianism


  • wrinkled weasel

    You write that “Labour does not matter that much” but is it not worth asking why?

    Clearly there is an Ed element; he was shoehorned by the Unions. It is the Unions that do not matter that much, and insofar as Ed and Labour are beholden to them, then their power is diminishing with along every nasty fatcat union leader and every nasty public sector strike, the latter being about as popular with the public as a mackerel milk-shake

  • Ron Todd

    Ed has said that the labour party is all about opposing vested interests. If that includes bib business and bankers who at least contribute something then it should also include the teachers unions when they oppose any improvements to education or the train drivers unions when they use the Olympics to extort more money.

  • pound

    “not the humility of the humiliated, but the humility of the humble: it’s too late for Ed to do that. someone else though…

  • Steve

    I’ve been enjoying Martin’s columns more and more but gee whiz, ‘pragmatic utopianism’, has this guy never heard of the Problem of Evil!

    Matthew Blott – brilliant, insightful comment. Thanks

  • Kennybhoy

    Erica Blair on January 14th, 2012 5:12pm

  • dearieme

    I hope Labour progress from being the third party to utter destruction. Then politics can get back to Whigs vs Tories, after the long illusion that socialism might have something to offer.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    “But Labour leaders are expected to embody hopes and dreams: they are pragmatic Utopianism made flesh.”

    I’m sorry to appear ignorant, but isn’t “pragmatic Utopianism” an oxymoron? Or in Labour’s linguistic Humpty-Dumpty world, has either pragmatic or Utopianism been re-defined so as they are not contradictory when quoted together?

  • john problem

    What he needs to do is attack the bonus culture, the richer-than-rich, the bankers, etc. How the public would love it! He has nothing to lose since the Labour Party is mainly funded by the unions. Who are his political advisers? They must be thick not to see it…

  • Sabine Schutte

    Labour leaders “are pragmatic Utopianism made flesh”… Goodness, what a turn of phrase! It goes some way towards explaining why I’ve been feeling so depressed about Ed Miliband for the past few months.

    Although this bit about the opposition claiming the government is stealing their ideas wasn’t just a Lib Dem thing. I remember when Cameron was protesting in the Commons that Brown had used the Tories’ proposals on raising the inheritance tax and introducing flexible working laws. And actually, I don’t feel that’s necessarily a sign of weakness: can’t it be construed as the opposition having good ideas so ready to be put into practice that the government happily takes them on board and implements them? Not that Labour’s particularly giving off that impression at the moment…

  • Erica Blair

    Martin ‘Begin’ Bright should stick to his day job as a Hasbara attack dog where he smears Rabbis who have the gall to speak to Muslims.

  • Jeremy

    The trouble with Ed is that he lacks spontaneity and he lacks wit. Unfortunately this shows – both in the Commons and in the broadcast interviews that he gives.

    I listened to him being interviewed by John Humphries on the ‘Today’ programme earlier this week. I think it is no more than stating the obvious to say that Labour politicians are always given an easy ride by the BBC – who reserve their most difficult and antagonistic interviewing techniques for the Tories – but even given this, Ed came out of it terribly. Largely for the reasons already mentioned at the beginning of this comment, but also because he just did not seem to connect with either the interview or the interviewer.

    I don’t think he’s quite on the same planet as the rest of us. As opposed to being on the Earth, he appears to be somewhere in orbit around it, if you see what I mean.

    Besides this, I think that he’s a really nice guy…:)

  • Sir Graphus

    “Labour leaders always fail better”. Really? Can’t think of anyone whose failure was worse than Gordon Brown. Exposed as a bully, a ditherer, and thoroughly disliked, he left the country in total ruin.

    John Major, who we might say left office looking a total failure, left the economy in fine fettle.

  • Tarka the Rotter

    And perhaps, as part of this humility, we could have a decent apology for the thirteen years of Blair and Brown that have got us into the mess we are in? No? Didn’t think so.

  • Matthew Blott

    I agree with some of this. The general assumption currently – one I’d agree with – is that William Hague is a pretty decent Foreign Secretary. Yet he was perceived as being a pretty bad leader of the Conservative party. How is that possible? The truth is, after 1997, whoever led the Tories wouldn’t have made much difference and I think that is where Labour is now. I’m not a huge admirer of MiliE – he’s a policy wonk who looks and sounds like an android and who I don’t think will ever be Prime Minister – but he’s nowhere near as bad as those castigating him pretend. I think the bigger problem is his supporters. I’m in the Labour party and am dismayed at the complacency of some of my fellow members – they seem to think trudging on will reveal the Tories as nasties who send children up chimneys and all will come running to Labour. But worse, when I point out this might not happen, they aren’t too bothered as long as they stick to policies that are unidentifiably leftwing. It’s all quite depressing, as you say Martin, a bit of humility wouldn’t go amiss.

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