By Mike Small
There’s a new book out which identifies dramatic ‘What If?’ scenarios in UK politics. Instead of the obvious question: what if Alan Rough had tipped Willy van de Kerkhof’s shot over the bar in the Estadio Mendoza in 1978? Would we be thirty years into constitutional change? Incredibly Francis Becket chooses instead to focus on key moments when fate decides who is going to be PM. In The Prime Ministers Who Never Were: a Collection of Counterfactuals Francis Becket asks what if John Smith had become Prime Minister, not Tony Blair? What if Oswald Moseley, Hugh Gaitskell, Norman Tebbitt, Neil Kinnock, David Miliband or Michael Foot had entered No 10?
Reviewing it Chris Mullin is massively generous to John Smith, speculating that: “The Millennium Dome would not have got off the ground. Spin and focus groupery and all the rest of the New Labour alchemy would be unheard of. Bernie Ecclestone’s £1m cheque would have been returned uncashed. We would have been spared the spectacle of a serving prime minister being interviewed as part of a police inquiry into cash for honours.”
It’s the sort of parlour game exercise of our cadaver politics. Zombie Nation stuff. What do you when nothing matters and you can’t change anything? Get excited about AV? Write books about Ramsay MacDonald? In this line Neal Lawson (chair of Compass) over at the New Statesman is worried. Pondering Ed Miliband’s awkward occupancy of the Labour Party leadership he asks ‘What If? Labour had won in 2010?’ It’s not a pretty prospect.
To the eerie sound of chickens coming home to roost Lawson counts off Labours wasted years:
“Celebration, then what? Then this: a Labour government implementing the harshest cuts to the public services since the Thatcher era; rubber stamping huge tuition-fee increases, introduced through John Browne’s review which was initiated by Labour; which was initiated by Labour; sanctioning yet more academy schools; introducing destabilising welfare reforms. Throw in what Labour promised but never delivered during its first three terms, such as Trident renewal and the full introduction of identity cards, and the thought becomes decidedly uncomfortable.
Then remember what Labour did in office. It said that ownership didn’t matter and there was nothing wrong with people becoming filthy rich. It indulged Rupert Murdoch and the bankers – and we cheered as taxes went down and house prices went up. It was Labour that allowed alcohol to get cheaper and made access to gambling easier. It was Labour that tried to sell off Royal Mail and opened the way for the privatisation of the NHS and education.
Successive Labour chancellors boosted the economy by inflating an unsustainable debt bubble and proclaimed that they had ended “boom and bust”. On Labour’s watch, the far right grew in strength, because immigration was used to undercut wages. Worst of all, the poor got poorer and the planet burned.”
But if Labour lose on 5th May it’s not their failed time in office that will have caused them – it’s their failure in opposition.
With the People’s Toff and the increasingly miserable Krampus figure of Nick Clegg Labour should be romping home. It’s testimony to the complete failure of Miliband to master any sense of direction or vision that Labour are struggling to make an impact in this election.
They have a gift of a Bullingdon Club cabinet and a dynamic young movement in UK Uncut – a wellspring of discontent and yet, bereft of energy and sapped of ideas they remain enthralled to the Blairite vision. How else can you explain that not a single Labour MP managed to attend the Six Billion Ways event in East London last month?
The blurb is keen: “From the grassroots to the global, communities and movements are imagining and creating a world where people and planet come before profit, and democracy trumps corporate power.”
Isn’t that the sort of idealism we were hoping for from Red Ed? Does anyone remember the frothing media on Ed’s appointment? He was portrayed as having just left a long meeting taking a hooka pipe with Sub Commandante Marcos before announcing re-nationalisation of the coal board. Instead we have incessant talk of the ‘squeezed middle?’
Lawson , who was a former speech-writer and advisor to Gordon Brown concludes bleakly: ‘Labour is lost. Labour has turned from exhaustion to confusion.’
The reality is that if a rudderless Labour party lose the Scottish election it will be not because voters remember Blair’s disastrous illegal foreign policy, Brown’s shambolic economic policy, or the Labour government’s privatisation programme. It will be because they have nothing to say and the cobbled together mix of ‘less cancer’, ‘tough on knife crime’ and ‘apprenticeships’ is such a paltry offering they will have failed to convince their core vote, never mind winning a mandate.
After May 5th all the leaders heads are on the line. If Gray doesn’t win he’ll have to go. Goldie, who everybody likes (but only because she has no chance of being anywhere near Bute House) is surrounded by foes and though holding it together is vulnerable. Tavish has already gone. And would Salmond continue if he loses?
There may be a lot more What If? debates to be had.