Andrew Grice: Labour's nightmare looms: a centre-right alignment

Inside Politics

Share
Related Topics

The new government is bedding down, Conservative and Liberal Democrat ministers work well together and a potentially difficult transition to coalition politics has been remarkably smooth. David Cameron looks the part, as if he has been Prime Minister for years not weeks.

So you might expect Labour to be deep in gloom. You would be wrong. The mood is surprisingly upbeat. Sixty-three of Labour's 258 MPs are new, an unusually large injection of youth, energy and enthusiasm. They have given a tonic (no gin) to a Parliamentary Labour Party that lacked fizz. Older hands are genuinely relieved that Labour did not do even worse in May. Its chances of bouncing back to win next time have been increased by the Liberal Democrats' decision to do a deal with the Conservatives.

The mood at Labour headquarters is bullish. You would not expect people to rush to join a defeated, apparently exhausted party. Yet 21,243 have signed up to Labour since the election. One in three is under 30; 41 per cent are women, broadening the party's base. One in three is a former Liberal Democrat voter, and many feel "let down" or "betrayed" by the decision to form the coalition. Other recruits fear what the Government will do, pointing to the spending cuts and the rise in VAT. Others are Labour supporters who suddenly feel energised enough to become members.

Although many people seem to wish the coalition well and to like the idea of parties co-operating instead of fighting, something else is happening too.

"A political revolt is going on," Harriet Harman, Labour's acting leader, told a Fabian Society dinner this week. When she met 450 recruits to Labour's "Club 2010" in East Ham, she told them: "You are a new political movement."

Ms Harman detects no sign of the mood of resignation when Labour lost elections in the 1980s, when the Tories had a mandate. She argues that the coalition lacked one – not least because the Liberal Democrats opposed at the election the immediate cuts they are now implementing.

Labour is confident that it will do well at the Liberal Democrats' expense at next May's elections to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English local authorities. By then, the cuts will have started to bite. Civil servants describe the planned cuts averaging 25 per cent (outside health and overseas aid) as "horrendous". But for now the numbers mean little to the public.

A revealing foretaste of the anger to come was provided this week by the embarrassing hokey-cokey over cuts to the school-building programme. Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, had the good grace and political nous to say sorry (repeatedly) and take the rap – a reminder, incidentally, that it will not be easy for David Cameron to devolve the pain (while talking about devolving power) to a local level. When things go wrong, the public looks to the Government and there is no escape for the minister.

Mr Gove's handling of the shambles in his department was a welcome break from Labour, which usually tried BSE (blame someone else) and avoided the "S" word. But there will be a lot of angry parents, heads and teachers this weekend, especially those who were told on Monday that their school's project was safe, only to find later that it was not.

You can hardly blame Labour for exploiting the row. Ed Balls, the shadow Education Secretary, has enjoyed a high profile and must have boosted his chances in Labour's leadership race. Yet Labour needs to be careful not to oppose every cut. It doesn't have to fight the next general election now but its leadership candidates are sending a bad signal to the voters by avoiding the cuts issue.

There's another reason why Labour shouldn't get carried away. In the topsy-turvy world created by the coalition, Labour gears up to oppose the change in the voting system which it was the only party to propose at the election. Officially, because the Tories have linked a switch to the Alternative Vote (AV) to a review of parliamentary boundaries which could conveniently compensate Mr Cameron's party for the 20-30 seats they might lose under AV. Unofficially, opposing AV offers Labour a tempting opportunity to take revenge on Nick for cosying up to Dave.

Mr Clegg had to press Mr Cameron to secure an AV referendum as early as next May. But, on reflection, some Cameroons see the referendum as a "win-win" whatever happens. If the public rejects reform, the Prime Minister will have been on the winning side after opposing AV and his party will make a net gain of seats under the boundary changes. If the public votes "Yes", the chances of the coalition lasting until the next election will be greatly enhanced.

And the introduction of AV might have a very different impact to the one Labour envisaged. It hoped the system – in which voters mark candidates in order of preference, with the one coming last eliminated until one secures more than 50 per cent – would encourage Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters to make the other party their second choice to keep the Tories out.

But these Cameroons now dream of a different scenario in which Tory and Liberal Democrat supporters put the other party second. That could hurt Labour. The realignment of politics, long favoured by some Labour and Liberal Democrat figures to marginalise the Tories, might just take place on the centre-right rather than the centre-left and push Labour into the wilderness.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist / Physio / Osteopath

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for o...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager / Sales Executive - Contract Hire

£35000 - £60000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leader provides c...

Recruitment Genius: Project Coordinator

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Area Sales Manager - Midlands

£20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Don’t pity me for eating alone, just give me a better table

Rosie Millard
Aerial view of planned third runway at Heathrow  

Heathrow expansion: This final 'conclusion' has simply fanned the airport flames

Chris Blackhurst
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy
UK heatwave: Temperature reaches 39.8 degrees on Central Line - the sweatiest place in London

39.8 degrees recorded on Tube

There's hot (London) and too damn hot (the Underground). Simon Usborne braved the Central line to discover what its passengers suffer
Kitchens go hi-tech: From robot chefs to recipe-shopping apps, computerised cooking is coming

Computerised cooking is coming

From apps that automatically make shopping lists from your recipe books to smart ovens and robot chefs, Kevin Maney rounds up innovations to make your mouth water
Jessie Cave interview: The Harry Potter star has published a feminist collection of cartoons

Jessie Cave's feminist cartoons

The Harry Potter star tells Alice Jones how a one-night stand changed her life
Football Beyond Borders: Even the most distruptive pupils score at homework club

Education: Football Beyond Borders

Add football to an after-school homework club, and even the naughtiest boys can score
10 best barbecue books

Fire up the barbie: 10 best barbecue books

We've got Bibles to get you grilling and smoking like a true south American pro
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

Junk balls and chop and slice are only way 5ft 1in Kurumi Nara can live with Petra Kvitova’s power
Ron Dennis exclusive: ‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

‘This is one of the best McLaren teams ever – we are going to do it’

Ron Dennis shrugs off a poor start to the season in an exclusive interview, and says the glory days will come back
Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most