Labour’s revenge

If you had been in the Students’ Union on election night you would have thought Labour and the Liberal Democrats had already formed a coalition. Ed Milliband was wearing his red tie with yellow dots while being interviewed by the BBC, and every time a Labour or Lib Dem candidate won a seat both societies would cheer for each other. Labour Soc and Lib Dem Soc had already formed a “progressive alliance.” But before the joint social could be organised, Cameron was prime minister and Clegg his deputy.

One wonders what this will mean for the British political parties themselves. Unusually in politics, the left is united and the centre and right divided. With Blair and Brown both gone, the old rift is hardly self sustaining, and as for ideological disputes, New Labour’s victory inside the Labour party is total.

The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives on the other hand are split for different reasons. The Conservatives are split over the legacy of Thatcher, and the Liberal Democrats – being an uneasy alliance of the old SDP and the Liberal party – are split between an economically liberal wing and more socially liberal wing of the party.

The Orange Book wing (the economic liberals) of the party, represented especially by Clegg, has displaced Charles Kennedy at the top. The Orange Book itself suggests replacing the NHS’s principle of ‘healthcare provided according to clinical need funded by taxation’ with social insurance. This is ground even Thatcher dared not tread, and Cameron will not even commit his party to making cuts in the NHS.

The Conservatives, having moved to the centre, retain a hard right backbench. One wonders whether the unity of Cameron and Clegg could make the right-wingers more powerful, not less. Cameron is able to claim that his hands are tied by Clegg in not implementing harsher social welfare policies. Likewise, Clegg can contain the pressure for more social democratic legislation through claiming his hands are tied in the alliance with Cameron.

Through such blame avoidance the Orange Book wing of the Liberal Democrats and Cameron wing of the Conservatives could be strengthened. The most Europhile and Eurosceptic parties might have to unite in a tacit policy of not talking about it – which might suit the interests of both.

In terms of the centre-left vote at the next election, a vote competed for by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, Labour have a clear run. For that student demographic of the centre-left one could imagine voting Lib Dem in 2005, angry about the Iraq war, angry about tuition fees and angry about the Bush and Blair love-in, it is difficult to imagine them voting Lib Dem next time: They could be voting for a party which has raised tuition fees and inflicted cuts which will affect students who are most dependent on the state for support. They would have been in coalition with the most hawkish party in foreign policy.

Labour, if its time in opposition allows it to reform to become more socialist and more left-wing, could become the natural party to vent rage at our new and likely highly neo-liberal government.

If not, there is always anarchism.


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