As recently as May 2010, it seemed just about conceivable, even post-election, that Labour would stay in power. Having presided over the biggest economic crash since 1929, Gordon Brown remained in office, and it was in fact the Conservatives who were having the inquest as to how they could not secure an overall majority in such favourable circumstances.
It seems astonishing, just over five years on, that the Labour Party may now be on the verge, literally, of falling apart. With a bloodied Liberal Democrat faction and no evidence despite the hype of any Green surge, this will leave the left in smithereens.
What Labour needs to do over the coming weeks is select a Leader to unify the left-and-centre. What it seems intent on doing – partly because of the crazy decision to let keyboard warriors who registered vague support last month have the same say as committed canvassers of 30 years’ standing – is dividing itself even more.
With Scotland gone for at least a decade and boundaries due to change in 2018, Labour’s task to regain power and influence is to outpoll the Conservatives in England. Even this would not guarantee an absolute majority, but it would offer likely largest party status. It is, however, something which has only been achieved twice in the last nine elections since 1974.
The real battleground is southern England. Here, depressed coastal towns such as Hastings, run-down areas of Southampton, funky social liberal parts of Brighton, struggling dormitory towns like Folkestone, the whole of suburban far-from-posh Essex, poor peripheral towns like Harlow, flooded parts of the West Country and the whole of England’s least affluent county of Cornwall are represented in their entirety by Conservative MPs. In other words, in the entire south of England outside London, the party of the working class is blue. How could Labour let this happen?
Working people know the welfare system does not work, they expect work to be rewarded, and they see the value of financial responsibility. After all, they exercise all these things themselves. Therefore, they vote for parties which see this too. These are not my words, they are the basic summary of a report by John Cruddas into why Labour lost, commissioned by the party itself.
That the party is turning in on itself, degenerating into factions and on the verge of an outright split is the result of ignoring even the right questions, never mind the right answers. And that is before we even reach the farce of its Leadership election, which will inevitably result in a weakened opposition, less effective challenge to the government, and a decline in the standard of British democratic debate.
Regardless of our own political stances, the populist dash to the extremes should cause all democrats to worry. It is not good for any of us.