How quickly things change. For the last few years, all the analysis of the upcoming election has hinged upon one observation/assumption: that a united left would be facing off against a fragmented right.
Yet this morning’s newslinks alone contain a surplus of evidence of the strong leftward gales threatening to blow Labour off course in the next few months.
First, we have Labour helping to impose a series of strict restrictions on fracking, which will greatly hinder the potential of this new technology to improve the UK’s energy security and create new jobs. The Daily Mail claims that “Labour frontbenchers have hardened their opposition to the idea, for fear of losing voters to the Greens.”
Significantly, this involved Labour voting against the interests of two of its biggest trades union backers. Both Unite and the GMB urged Labour to ‘save fracking’ prior to yesterday’s vote.
Next there is the return of another throwback from Labour’s unelectable mid-Eighties dark age: wrangling over Britain’s nuclear deterrent.
Since plunging off to the left in pursuit of their newly mobilised post-referendum activists, the SNP have made the abolition of Trident one of their key negotiating positions for the next Parliament. With the party set to take a sizeable number of seats off Labour in May, Nicola Sturgeon could decide whether Ed Miliband becomes Prime Minister or not.
Perhaps that’s why he avoided the Chamber during an SNP motion supporting unilateral nuclear disarmament. This led pro-nuclear Labour MPs to accuse him of “trying to be cute” and playing a “dangerous game”.
With polls showing 75 per cent support for retaining a nuclear deterrent and grandees like Lord Mandelson counselling against a nationalist alliance, Ed Balls has since all but ruled out a coalition with the SNP – further limiting Labour’s options in the aftermath of the vote.
If all that wasn’t enough, some Labour MPs are apparently taking the victory of Syriza – an unsavoury coalition of red-blooded communists and other assorted revolutionaries – as a favourable omen.
It has been remarked before that Labour has not psychologically prepared its members and activists for the actual programme of government circumstances will dictate to it if it wins in May (i.e. cuts upon cuts).
Now the victory of what the Spectator describes as “is a coalition of hard and soft communists”, in circumstances as uniquely trying as Europe can manage, has given Miliband’s hard-liners the leeway to convince themselves, against all actual evidence, that the path to power lies in doing exactly what they want to be doing.
This leaves Miliband and Balls in the unenviable position of trying to reach out to the middle ground whilst also keeping their own left under control and minimising the loss of left-wing voters to a growing pool of anti-austerity alternatives – and of the culturally conservative working class to UKIP, to boot.
None of this detracts from the potential damage that the deeper and longer-running split on the right will do to the chances of a centre-right government and referendum on Europe in May. But it’s a long way from the united left that Labour strategists thought would carry them into Number 10.