Letter: The search for ideas to stimulate Labour's electoral resurgence

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The Independent Online
Sir: David Selbourne's article 'After the illusion, a new covenant' (17 February) rightly raises the problems that arise when a political party faces squarely up to a record of four electoral defeats. However, it glosses over a number of important issues.

There is nothing necessarily wrong in changing policy so as to contrive 'to win an election'. After all, is that not the whole raison d'etre of a political party? Moreover, winning an election increases the chances of change along the lines suggested, whether or not the ideology is in place.

It is also not clear where the criticisms of a Labour Party without ideas are leading. The Conservative Party has throughout history never held on to an idea long enough to damage its chances of election - whether that idea be simply to perpetuate Thatcherism by keeping Baroness Thatcher at the helm, or simply an embracement of welfare state ideals after they were implemented by the Attlee government. Indeed, the Conservative Party's phenomenal historical success is, in part, founded upon a consistent portrayal of itself as 'the party of government', with very little attendant ideological baggage.

Certainly the political left worldwide is having to face up to some pretty serious failures. But the right is in no better position. 'New right' doctrines, such as monetarism and the viewing of low inflation as an end rather than a means, have been sent to the rubbish tip where they belong. But the parties of the right have not been criticised for navel contemplation, rather they have just shed those policies for others without fanfare.

The search is on for a tenable position in the middle ground. Middle-left policies worked very well for decades in Scandinavia and Hungary. Middle-right policies have had their successes in Switzerland, Japan and elsewhere. In all cases, the success has been based on consensus between business, government and workers.

The Labour Party does not need the violent mental revolution prescribed. Any sort of appeal for a middle-ground consensus will do - as long as that will shake 'the party of government' out of its too-long-held position of power.

Yours faithfully,

ADRIAN MICHAELS

Arkley, Hertfordshire

17 February

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