Sunday, March 20, 2005

The importance of remaining calm(ish)

It's been bugging me since Wednesday, this. In the ever-insightful Jackie Ashley's Guardian column, dealing with the fact that the Tories seem to be shooting large holes in Labour's campaign, I came across this:

"If they have caught the party off balance, perhaps it has been because Labour wasn't standing firm to begin with. A good example is the bizarre briefing to the Murdoch papers that a third New Labour administration would be far more pro-private sector than ever before. When they asked, not unnaturally, whether Brown was not against this, they were then told that Brown would be dealt with. Then it seems that someone realised this was not a brilliant thing to brief, since, er, they needed Brown for the campaign. So the briefing was modified to say that. Which, in turn, infuriated Alan Milburn."

Now, aside from whether or not Alan got cross, this seemed to point out the strange nature of his approach to the campaign. The core vote is palpably disillusioned, as many as 3 million of the people who voted Labour in 1997 and 2001 have signalled that they don't want to again - and the way out of the hole seems to involve telling the newspapers that the steady erosion of the public sector over the last 8 years represents only the beginning. Brilliant! Lest any New Labour readers accuse me of looking at election strategy though rosily left-wing lenses - how many voters of any description do you know who'll be inspired to go and vote Labour by the announcement of a new privatisation drive?

(In fact, while we're here, let us remind ourselves of the rib-tickling words of T.Benn: “New Labour doesn’t have any support. You can’t imagine canvassing and people saying, ‘Oh yes, I’m New Labour, I’d like to privatise the Post Office, I’d like to have more loans for students and, oh yes, let’s have another war.’”)

Still, my bafflement subsided until today, when I was wearily keying in the constituency entry for Birmingham Edgbaston (it'll be up tomorrow). Gisela Stuart is the local Labour MP: she's the woman who publicly argued against the idea that a John Kerry Presidency might make the world a slightly better place as follows - "You know where you stand with George and, in today's world, that's much better than rudderless leaders who drift with the prevailing wind."
But! There's a fair chance of a Tory victory in BE, so in the (tentative) advice went: "Vote Labour, and then go and have a shower." Aaaaaargh.

And then the image popped back into my head: a cabal of Labour insiders going to meet their Murdochian friends to tell them that there were yet more glad tidings for those who'd seek to wring a profit out of healthcare and education.

Why do these people deserve any shred of support at all? Why not just say 'You've lost us, and even if it lets Tories in, we're off'? Answers: 1)Because every Tory win weakens the progressive case and feeds the appetites of New Labour's triangulators; 2)Because Blair is going during the next parliament and a social-democratic realignment is a distinct possibility; and 3)If that happens, even the likes of Gisela Stuart will cravenly change their spots and get with the programme.

It's hard though, eh?