BLAIR demon eyes

Those on the right of the Labour party, for want of a better term, have one substantial silver lining to take away from this election: it is another nail in the coffin of the damaging delusion that Labour can win from the left.

I say “another” nail because it joins a growing collection of such nails, hammered home throughout the Eighties and culminating, so it was thought, with the bitter surprise of 1992.  That was the wake-up call that finally prompted Labour to let Tony Blair recast it and lead it to three landslide victories in a row.

Yet Ed Miliband based his entire leadership on a rejection of that reform. The sobering result is that unless Labour somehow contrives to win in 2020, Blair will be the only Labour leader to win a general election in half a century.

The country that elected Baldwin when Europe was turning to communism and fascism has now elected Cameron whilst the Continent seeks answers in Syriza and the Front Nationale. In England and Wales, at least, a strong predilection for self-conscious anti-radicalism remains potent.

It is telling that in the aftermath of Friday morning it is two supposed ‘Blairites’, Liz Kendall and Chuka Umunna, who have been first out of the gates in the party leadership election. Blair himself has made an intervention, clearly sensing that a window for rehabilitation may have opened.

The Labour right will also see themselves as addressing a clear strategic problem for Labour: the vital battleground with the Conservatives.

A very disappointing performance in Con/Lab marginal is what really hammered home how bad Thursday was going to be, and Nuneaton may replace Basildon as the constituency carved into the soul of every Labour activist.

Yet the Tories, focused as they were on eviscerating the Liberal Democrats, still lost ground slightly to Labour on that blue-red battleground. This suggests that a strong centrist candidate could be very effective against the Conservatives in those critical marginals.

Alternatively, that a strong, centrist Conservative candidate could inflict yet deeper misery on Labour if it elects another comfort-zone leader. Especially if that Tory candidate is Boris Johnson, who could negate much of the party’s increasingly vital advantage in London.

However, the route back to Blairism is not as clear cut as the above arguments, and some Labour commentators. suggest. There is plenty of evidence which suggests that the various building blocks of the Blair coalition might be incompatible these days.

As seen most dramatically in Scotland, but also in the surge of the UKIP vote in the North of England and Wales, huge swathes of the Labour base are rejecting a party they perceive to have drifted away from them, caught up in the bright lights of the remote metropolis. Yet that metropolitan stronghold is also one of the remaining lynchpins of Labour support.

It is hard to imagine how a single Labour candidate or strategy could at once maintain their position in London, advance against the Conservatives in the South, shore up the North and Wales, and start to fight back in Scotland.

The prospect of UKIP, with a new leader and a properly focused campaign, smashing the party’s rotting machines in North and Wales as the SNP did in Scotland is a nightmare scenario that is not entirely implausible, given the compromises Labour may have to make to close its two million vote gap with the Tories.

In terms of Parliamentary strategy, given Labour’s 100-seat deficit they will struggle to maximise pressure on Cameron, for all his small majority, if they can’t or won’t cooperate with the smaller, more left-wing parties sharing the opposition benches with them. Although of course the Blairites can point out that such cooperation would itself be a gift to the Tories’ 2020 campaign.

In summary, Blair had the luxury of “base plus”, where he simply needed to add voters to the huge chunk of the electorate who were Labour, had always been Labour and would always be Labour. His would be heirs do not have that luxury.

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