Mark Steel: Farewell to the Labour Party

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The Independent Online

Oh this is painful. The anticipation is probably worse than the event itself. I feel as if I'm due for an operation at ten o'clock tomorrow night, in which I'm having an assortment of gardening implements inserted into me for an indefinite period. To add to the agony, the odd poll creates a cruel whiff of hope, as if the surgeon's rung to say he can't find the rake so it might be just the shovel and the trowel.

Most days the moment of optimism is dashed by the latest spectacular Labour nonsense, such as suddenly endorsing a vote for the Lib Dems in areas where Labour can't win. What's the Labour candidate in those areas supposed to do now? Presumably if someone on the doorstep says, "You can count on my vote", they have to say, "NO. Don't vote for me, I'm an idiot", and start Tasering their pets.

Labour look as if they'll say anything out of desperation, and by tonight they'll announce that if they win, to show how sorry Brown is, they'll make Mrs Duffy Minister for Agriculture. Every time I check the news I fear I'll see a new disaster, like, "Brown sorry for running over dolphin".

The distress of a Tory win isn't so much at Cameron's policies, or even his background, it's his party's background. They're the natural party of the Ashcrofts and the similarly non-domicile super-wealthy for whom greed is a moral crusade.

Labour would say, "But our party has modernised, so that we too can now appeal to knights, squires and barons", but the Tory party is these people's natural home.

Labour's problem is it has no way of countering the Tory philosophy as it's spent its whole time in office desperate to please the same elite. So now that bankers are unpopular, Labour tries to appear angry about them but has to say: "We were very firm with those bankers. When they ruined the economy we gave them such a look."

Similarly, on Monday Brown made an Obama-style speech about civil rights and each of us marching against injustice to become part of history, which might have been a moving spectacle except for the detail that the biggest marches in British history have been against his government. And even the most powerful rhetoric loses its edge if the speaker has to say: "There will be a movement of millions, from every corner of the land, diverse in age and race, in gender and in religion but united in its noble and historic aim, to stop me being a warmongering arsehole."

But beyond the disguised sneer of Cameron and the hopelessness of Brown lies a bigger issue in this election, which is the dismantling of Labour. It was created at the start of the twentieth century, through the efforts of those who believed for the first time in history, working class people should be represented in government.

So until the era of Blair, whatever the size of its vote, it retained its branches in every town, its campaigners, its youth sections and its links with working class communities. Under Blair that evaporated, so the branches are almost dead, and almost anyone with any vision or passion has packed up and left, so that now they might be overtaken by Liberal Democrats, not just in votes but as a national party in every sense. That will be Blair's legacy.

But, as in 1900, where someone makes a sustained effort to build an opposition to Tory values, for example by proposing to renationalise the railways and withdraw the troops from Afghanistan, they can win a tangible degree of support, and the Greens and Respect are likely to win seats.

That's where the hope lies, in creating something new to represent those values, as the founders of Labour did in 1900. Or as the election is between three parties who are all unelectable, this might create a cosmic conundrum of the sort that happens in Doctor Who, that will cause a vacuum in the universe and we'll all end up in a parallel universe.