Alex Massie

Labour’s Category Error

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Have you been impressed by Labour's response to their election defeat? Hmmm. Next question: is anyone listening to Labour's complaints that the Liberal Democrats have "betrayed" themselves and everything that is nice and sweet and wholesome about this pleasant land? Best move on from that one too. Sunny Hundal makes a good argument that, at the very least, it is much too soon for Labour to be taking this line.

It's a good post but it misses one trick, I think: Labour continue to suffer from the category error of believing that liberals are really Labour voters who don't quite realise this. But this is not the case and it's quite evident that Nick Clegg is no Charles Kennedy. Indeed, the Lib Dem leadership might be thought closer to Germany's Free Democrats or their own ancestors in the Manchester Free Trade movement than to the SDP. When Nick Clegg said "I am not a Social Democrat" (or words to that effect) it might have been wise to listen to him.

Because - and this ought not to be too difficult a point to grasp - one reason some people vote Liberal Democrat is that they don't want to vote for the Labour party. And they don't want to vote for the Labour party because they don't agree with it.

Despite this, many Labour types continue to believe that a Liberal Democrat is just an absent-minded Labour voter. Sooner or later they'll come to their senses and return to the mother fold. Well, maybe. This leads one to the curious position in which some Labour supporters seem to believe that the Lib Dems should essentially be advancing left-wing causes from within the belly of a centre-right government. This seems a recipe for disappointment.

So too, I think, is the belief that Liberal Democrat voters will be so scunnered by the (novel!) experience of power that they will enthusiastically desert their party at the next election. Doubtless some will, but there just may be rather more who quite like being in power and consider it, all things being equal and all that, preferable to life in opposition. (Plus, there are quite a number of voters who like seeing politicians from different parties working together. They consider this sensible and grown-up.)

So, one measure of Labour's recovery may be when they cease patronising liberals and appreciate that, actually, the left doesn't have a monopoly on the non-Tory vote and that, again, it has no right to presume that non-Tory votes are actually a super-secret endorsement of Labour. Right now, however, there's little sign of that happening.

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.