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A Nightmare Scenario

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I accept what has rapidly become the conventional Labour wisdom: acceptance of defeat and a period of opposition to reflect on the reasons for it is in Labour’s and, if the coalition comes unstuck before too long, the country’s best interest. The alternative was also not a “progressive alliance” but, as Mark Seddon argued at Left Futures on Monday, a Lab-Lib coalition committed “to widespread and swingeing public services cuts”.

But then I had a nightmare.

The meetings behind closed doors that were not a source of public joy are over. The new government will have a honeymoon. Of course some Liberal activists and many of their voters, especially in Labour homelands, will be annoyed. “We’ll kill them for this in Liverpool,” a friend says to me and no doubt that’s true, but the public really will like to see politicians of different parties working together.

“But the coalition will fall apart,” you’ll say and that’s also true, but what if that too was by agreement? In a year or two? What if, the nightmare goes, the effect of coalition was that they were not the same old Tories, after all?

Gary Younge was right to point out that there were 20 openly gay Tory candidates not because the Tories have changed, but because Labour had changed public attitudes. But if Cameron, strengthened by the need to preserve the coalition, continues to slap down his homophobes and other assorted Neanderthals like he punished his most offensive expense claimers, the new Government may turn out to be seen as socially liberal, on civil liberties to the Left of Labour, and happy too to save a bit on ID cards and throw Trident’s replacement into the Defence review, playing well with that slice of liberal England that helped us to our big victories.

The economy is of course the rub. But what if they do deliver on Vince Cable’s proposal that nobody with an income below £10,000 should be subject to income tax, and crack down on tax avoidance? Could that stack up as seeming more progressive than Labour’s record on tax? Will the pain of public service cuts whose “necessity” has been conceded by Labour turn people back to us?

Apart from the last, these are things mainly out of our control, but there is no room for complacency. We lost and those whose votes went elsewhere may be slow to forgive us. Our battle to return may be harder than we think.

One Comment

  1. Matthew Stiles says:

    On the other hand, if they do turn out to be progressive, then that might make Labour more left. Hopefully, clear red water will win out over triangulation.

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