Fraser Nelson

Labour is working towards a decade of Opposition

Labour is working towards a decade of Opposition
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Is Ed Miliband finished? That's the implication of many of the papers today — and David is portrayed as waiting in the wings, ready to claim his rightful inheritance. Dream on. Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party is hardly in crisis. If there was an election today, he’d win a Labour majority of 34. Dull men can win surprising victories, as John Major demonstrated in 1992. The Times’ notion that he has until party conference to save his leadership is just as fanciful. Labour Party Conferences are neverscenes of grassroots rebellion. The Tories are the ones who lay on fights, and some just turn up to Tory conference for the political violence. Tories can (and do) get rid of leaders to liven up a wet weekend. Labour has never got rid of a dud leader in  his history as a party — not from the grassroots, or from popular rebellion. It just doesn’t happen. Labour has no defence mechanism against bad leadership, hence Brown’s survival. At Labour conferences, leaders — good or bad — get standing ovations.

As I say in the News of the World today, Labour’s problem is self-hatred. The Tory policies it despises the most are always the ones nicked from Tony Blair. The party needs a psychiatrist, not a strategist. And Ed Miliband needs to put his party on the couch and force it to admit what it did right: school reform, welfare reform and even Darling’s deficit reduction plan is pretty close to that of Osborne (who is cutting less than 1 per cent a year more in total).

Blaming Balls for plotting and scheming is like blaming a retriever for chasing a bunny. He can’t help it. The desire to fight and kill is hardwired into him: it’s his funny way of saying "hello". He does need to chill, but can probably only do so by taking up yoga or acquiring a marijuana habit. Problem is, his non-stop scheming and ultraviolence doesn’t help his party, or him. You’d think it would be all okay when it's Osborne’s picture taped on to his bedroom punchbag, but no. His killer instinct has led him to take the wrong line of attack on the economy. Osborne’s cuts aren’t harsh or drastic: they’re mild and probably insufficient. There’s almost no organisation on the planet that agrees with Balls that cuts of less than 1 per cent a year are too harsh and too fast — he ends up looking like a loser. Better if he’d focused his attack on tax rises and the cost of living (the latter is the no.1 concern for ordinary voters). But Balls always goes in for the kill: that’s his modus operandi. It’s tragic that someone of his intelligence and understanding of economics should succumb to such a temperament. He’s the best Shadow Chancellor available to Labour, but he needs to switch tactics.

Labour is a hippyish, peace-loving party that was hijacked by Brown and his joyless bunch of character assassins four years ago. It has plenty of talent in its new intake, and not so long ago was an awesome election-winning machine plausibly able to claim it was (as Blair said) “nothing less than the political wing of the British people”. Blair should have cut the union link when he had the chance, because the unions have since installed their man as leader — and slowly started to capture the party.

And let’s not forget: the Blairites quit. James Purnell, John Reid, Alan Milburn: they decided not to join in the circular firing squad that their party was about to form after the election. Say David Miliband is enthroned, in a Blairite restoration: who does he put in his shadow Cabinet? Ben Bradshaw, Jim Murphy, perhaps Douglas Alexander (who is, I hear, becoming a Blairite about ten years too late). But, beyond that, the people just are not there to correct Labour from its current hellwards trajectory.

So my feeling is that Labour will not eject Ed Miliband in a wave of disgust and self-assertion. Rather, the Labour membership is more likely to pretend nothing is happening and blabber on about “unity.” And, meanwhile, we’ll get these leaks — then counter-attacks. It could well be that New Labour will be remembered as a freakish vote-winning blip in the history of a party that secretly prefers principled defeat to exhausting victory. Fundamentally, I think we’re looking at a party that wants at least ten years in opposition. Lucky, old Cameron.