The Mess They’re In

Ross McKibbin on what Labour can do and shouldn’t do

Should Labour apologise, and if so what for? Ever since the last election and even more since the election of Ed Miliband as leader, there has been a near universal assumption that the party is not doing as well as it should, that its lead in the opinion polls is shaky, that the ‘South’ is lost, that Miliband is hopeless, and that, consequently, Labour should show ‘humility’ and return to Blairism under a different leader. John Rentoul recently wrote in the Independent that the Labour Party has moved ‘to the left faster than the speed of light’. The definition of ‘left’ here is one that few outside Blairite circles would recognise, but it’s still telling. The idea that Labour has fled to the ‘left’, though absurd by any conventional definition, and the belief in the party’s general decrepitude, are held not just in the media but also among both ageing and rising Blairites. They have reasons for wishing all this to be true. The problem is that it is not true. Although the opinion polls have wobbled, Labour has been ahead very nearly since the coalition was first formed – usually by a wide enough margin to win a putative election. Labour has also done well in all the by-elections in this parliament. Its performance has been surprisingly good: better than it had a right to expect. It is not Labour’s ‘disappointing’ record that needs explaining but why so many persist in saying that it is disappointing. The hostility of the Tory press is to be expected, but the extreme reluctance of the media generally to admit that Labour is doing reasonably well or that Miliband might become an effective leader is a measure of its general neo-Blairism. The first reason for not apologising is that Labour’s present political-electoral position does not warrant it.

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