Friday, 15 May 2015

Not never, but not now.

The immediate aftermath of the 2011 Scottish Parliament elections seems a long time ago but it was when I started blogging.

Labour had just suffered a devastating defeat in the Scottish Parliament elections, Iain Gray had understandably resigned as Scottish Party Leader and the cry that went up immediately was "We must have a new leader"!

I asked then however the simple question "Why"?

To my mind that question was never answered satisfactorily.

We knew in May 2011 that given the SNP had an absolute majority in the Scottish Parliament there would, definitely, be no further Scottish General Election until May 2015.*

Four years ahead, or, more correctly, in the immediate run up to an election four years ahead, Labour would have needed a candidate for First Minister. We did not however need that candidate selected with declared finality in a process conducted over the Summer of 2011.

Yet that is what we got.

At the time I backed Tom Harris but I concede that Tom, as a Westminster MP, would undoubtedly have had difficulty in time management between Westminster and Holyrood over a four year period. It seemed to me that there was however no adequate candidate (or at least no adequate candidate willing to stand) within the rump Holyrood group. Time proved that indeed to be the case.

I'm not yet ready to fully engage with the mess the Scottish Labour Party is in but it seems to me that the lesson of four years past learned through harsh experience by the Scottish Party should be being paid more attention by the Party as a whole.

Why are we rushing to select a new UK Party leader when in Terms of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, and in the context of increasingly Presidential General Election contests, that person will not actually be a candidate for Prime Minister until May 2020?

I have simply no idea.

Certainly we need a leader of the Parliamentary Group but why couldn't the Parliamentary Group not simply select such a person? That might be a task pretty thankless outwith the ranks of the Party itself but internally the individual involved could expect considerable gratitude and goodwill.

They could easily take Prime Minister's Questions and deal with the operation of  "the usual channels" for the next two or three years.

It's clear that the Party needs a much more honest discussion about what went wrong a week past on Thursday and how to put it right than that which took place in the immediate aftermath of 2010. Wouldn't that more honest discussion be aided if it didn't involve challenging and, potentially, "undermining" a leader already in post?

But there is another and more fundamental reason to commend this approach.

It is clear that the Labour coalition of the organised working class roped to the liberal middle class and minorities: ethnic, national or indeed other, simply isn't enough any more.

Never mind that the organised working class is not, numerically, what it was. In voting intention, the "liberal" adjective is increasingly subordinate to its subjective clause "middle class" and minorities clearly think they have other options. In Scotland have exercised these options in spades.

All of this makes the way ahead increasingly difficult for the Labour Party.

Yet the selection of a new leader here and now will not be dominated by consideration of how to rebuild that coalition and/or how to expand it.  Rather it will be dominated by who best would aid internal Party factions in a struggle over the next five years.

For all the repercussions that flowed from it, the principal point on the agenda at the famous Blair/Brown Granita meeting was "Who will best beat the Tories". By the Spring of 1994 minds had already turned to an election that, under the prevailing rules at the time, might have been as little as two years away.

And when Blair emerged from that internal leadership contest he really was something "New".

Over the period up to the election Blair could create the impression of an insurgency, of being the "coming thing", in a way that would have been altogether more difficult over a five year long haul. A significant part of that was that Blair himself was "new"; change made flesh if you like.

The Americans get this. After the defeat of McCain and then Romney it would not have occurred to the Republicans that they immediately needed a different "alternative President".

More to the point so do the Democrats. After 2004 an immediate contest could never have delivered what remains the archetypal insurgent progressive campaign of our time: Obama for America. Even if somehow it had, it is difficult to see how that momentum could have been maintained for four years.

That's what Labour needs. A contest in 2018/19 from which hopefully a candidate "for Britain" would emerge. A candidate not selected based not on who the Party membership most wanted but  chosen with regard who the electorate most wanted. And not a platform and then a candidate or indeed a candidate and then a platform. Rather a candidate AND a platform emerging together.

So no harm to Andy or Yvette or Liz or Mary or anybody else yet to declare, asked for my vote  in the next three months my response would be to each: "Not never, but not now".

Not that anybody is likely to listen. Any more than they listened in 2011.

*Later the Fixed Term Parliaments Act extended the Scottish Parliament term to May 2016.


  1. I subscribe to a view that the Tory late surge was down to them playing the 'dangerous LabSNP deal' card - a form of English nationalism. Other opinions are available.
    Given this, I find it difficult to devise or envisage the kind of platform or electoral strategy that would defeat this tactic come 2020, if the SNP again send 50odd MPs to thumb twiddle at Westminster, this card will be played again swinging about 3% of the vote.
    I despair for Scottish and UK politics where policy is not the primary field of play.

  2. I agree. Can't see how Labour "ever" gets back without sorting out Scotland

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