James Forsyth

The weakening of the New Labour coalition

The weakening of the New Labour coalition
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As Martin says, the divide in the government right now is whether the right legislative response to the recession is to--in political shorthand-- ‘ease the burdens on business’ or ‘protect workers more’. Today’s splash in The Times about Peter Mandelson’s plan to postpone the plans for more generous maternity leave and tougher equalities legislation which Harriet Harman has been pushing for, and were announced in the Queen’s Speech in December, shows that this debate is live not theoretical.

Stoking the tension is that everyone knows that, in the Labour leadership contest that would follow a defeat at the next election, those who are ‘on the side of workers’ will benefit. Harman’s positioning on this issue has been key to both her increasing popularity with the Unions and Labour members. Her internal opponents mutter bitterly about her irresponsibly playing to the gallery on this.

But the debate also reveals something fundamental about New Labour and its limits. As Nick Cohen has said, the economic boom New Labour inherited and kept going allowed this government to be both left wing and right wing. The economy was strong enough that it was possible to place more and more social requirements on business without actually raising unemployment (these measures did, though, obviously limit employment). But, now that the boom has turned to bust, this is no longer possible. It seems doubtful that the New Labour coalition can survive in these circumstances, when to govern is to choose.

Written byJames Forsyth

James Forsyth is Political Editor of the Spectator. He is also a columnist in The Sun.

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