To do so is quite telling – 21st July 2010 saw a new Coalition government working out what it agree on and what it did not (including reports of internal debates over death taxes and Regional Development Agencies), the new Chancellor’s fiscal approach was still being explored (the Office for Tax Simplification had been announced the previous day, while DCMS and the Army were reportedly bracing themselves for cuts), the foreign policy agenda was dominated by the prospect of withdrawal from Afghanistan, while the implications of a referendum on something called AV were widely debated. Labour’s leadership election was a footnote by contrast (though Simon Heffer did predict an Ed Miliband victory, he also argued that he could be Prime Minister by the summer of 2011).
Our newslinks for the 21st July 2015 present a rather different picture. A Conservative majority government is already in gear and pushing on with new legislation, the Chancellor is now far better understood and exploring the political aspect of his role, the foreign policy debate is now about whether to go into Syria and the the referendum looming on the horizon is on our membership of the EU, not an irrelevant electoral system. All these show a Conservative Party which has learned from its previous term and been strengthened by the experience – more MPs, better judgement (if not always perfectly so) and battle-hardened Ministers.
Just as stark a difference can be found in the state of the Labour Party. Five years ago they had been defeated, but could take comfort that it was not by as big a margin as most had expected. The relatively moderate David Miliband was the leading candidate to succeed Gordon Brown, and the biggest ruction in the leadership debate was Lord Mandelson criticism that the candidates agreed with each other too much.
How things can change. Today, the Opposition is still staggering from a defeat which they (and the pollster and many others) had expected to be a victory. In the Commons, Labour just suffered their biggest rebellion since December 2013 over welfare cuts (even though they now have a smaller Parliamentary Party). Tellingly, 21 of the 48 rebel MPs were members of the Miliband intake, elected either in May this year or in by-elections during the last Parliament. Miliband’s legacy to his party is not merely ideological confusion and electoral disaster, but a time-bomb composed of barmy lefties on the green benches. As the leadership surge of bearded bampot Jeremy Corbyn (who last night told a Jewish Labour hustings that Jews in the Cabinet ‘imposed’ the Balfour declaration) suggests, the former Leader may have left a similar nasty surprise hidden in the grassroots, too.
Some of these pains on the Labour side are self-inflicted. But many have been artfully imposed on them by the Conservative Party. From Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms to the Chancellor’s Disraeli Budget the Opposition have now been forced to be reactive for a long time – and in doing so, they have been enticed to give voters a clear view of the reasons why they cannot be trusted. The resulting debate about whether to purely act on principle or to factor in political expedience has exposed Labour’s fault lines, and electoral defeat, followed by the Budget, applied a mallet to those cracks. It was not easy to learn how to perform such a feat – as some of the errors of the last five years show all too well – but Cameron and Osborne have learned nonetheless, and Labour are feeling the effects.
All of which should give the Government greater opportunities to crack on with their programme and make fundamental changes which their small majority may not allow later in the Parliament. Neither Labour’s divisions nor our relative unity are likely to last forever. Creating such a chance has required years of hard work – we must now use it or lose it.