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Day 23 of the ‘new politics’, but the old rules are still in play and Labour continues to shrink. Not numerically, as membership simultaneously grows, but in terms of the space that it occupies in British politics. As a result I am in the odd position of agreeing with John McTernan, so here is a blog post to mark the occasion.
It started in May. Shocked by defeat and without long-term leadership, Labour grandees and leadership candidates began to disown parts of the party’s general election manifesto. The mansion tax? Sorry to have bothered you with it. Opposition to the new, tighter benefit cap? Nothing to do with us, guv. And so it was that Labour began to vacate the ground to their left. On the economy this trend has largely been continued, rather than abandoned, at least in macro terms, by new Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, even if Labour will once again oppose the caps.
But it appears that Labour people are so scared of being called ‘Tories’ by some of the party’s more mindless support (at today’s Conservative Party Conference) that they will vacate any ground of George Osborne’s choosing. In The Guardian today McTernan and Diane Abbott debate the appointment of former Labour minister Andrew Adonis as chair of the new National Infrastructure Commission. As McTernan argues, this is a Labour idea and the Tories have been forced to find a Labour man to run it. In other words, claim this as a victory, because your opponent has been forced to adopt your policy. If I were running Labour strategy, I would go through every policy, identify which have been ‘stolen’ (and show how Osborne’s successful economy was based on Alastair Darling’s pre-2010 proposals – which Osborne rubbished at the time). Next time the Conservatives claimed Labour were dangerous I’d respond by saying, ‘You said that last time and then did what we’d suggested’.
In contrast, while Diane Abbott does mention that the National Infrastructure Commission is a Labour idea, she is more interested in pointing out that Adonis is a Blairite, that he is linked to Progress (and therefore BAD), that he didn’t see Corbyn coming and now can’t influence policy, but that he’d have been better able to influence policy by sticking with Labour because Labour will win, because, Corbyn. Oh, and: Corbyn. It isn’t so much an argument as a random selection of contradictory sentences. But it’s another example of Labour leaving undefended the space to its right.
Winter is coming, and it may be that these retreats by the Red Army from left and right are strategic, to allow George Osborne, like others before him, to attempt to take Moscow and over-reach himself and his own forces’ supply chain. But at the moment it feels more as though Labour, even as its membership swells, is packing them onto a smaller and smaller part of the British political landscape.