There’s an episode of The New Statesman in which geologists discover that there’s no more oil in the North Sea and the British economy is about to crash; as a result all the parties try their best to lose the election so as not to carry the can for the next five years. Alan B’Stard, put in charge of the Tory campaign because they think him a liability, appears in the election video with Page 3 girls offering free bingo to the voters. Unfortunately, this proves a huge hit with the electorate.
A conspiracy theorist might think this is actually happening today, judging by the inertia of the major parties. There’s certainly the argument that, from a Conservative point of view (and assuming you personally won’t be adversely affected by the economic consequences, which most of us will), Miliband topping the poll could be a good thing as it would be the most Pyrrhic election victory in British history.
Look at what Labour is facing if it comes to power.
Firstly: the economy. As Dominic Lawson wrote in his Sunday Times column yesterday, Miliband is going to sorely disappoint the voters and especially his core support:
‘While the main party leaders have in the past few weeks competed to come up with more money to “give” to electors, exasperated economists at the Institute of Fiscal Studies have gone almost hoarse with their warnings that any future government will find it impossible to deliver (or at least not without uncovenanted tax increases on the masses). These would be the same British people whose household debt relative to national income is at 87% (compared with 54% in Germany and 56% in France). I can’t help feeling that whichever party is in power when interest rates start to rise will rue the day it won the 2015 general election.’
In other words, it will be impossible for a Labour government to avoid some form of austerity. To compound things, Labour is unlikely to win a majority and the only party that can probably keep it in power is the SNP.
Secondly, if I were a Labour strategist with an eye on the long term I would choose to fight another election or let the Lib-Con coalition continue rather than do a deal with the nationalists. They are not just another radical Left party, like the Greens; they are, to all intents and purposes, a foreign power (that is not a reflection on how the English see the Scots but on how the SNP see the English). No idea is more fatal to any political party anywhere in the world than the idea that it represents foreign interests and is working in coalition with a foreign government.
Even in our own history, before the Union, any side seen to be doing the bidding of the Scots (or Irish) was fatally compromised. The House of Lancaster lost the crown in 1461 because Margaret of Anjou did a deal with the Scots, whose men she gave permission to pillage England once they crossed the Trent. Which is sort of what Ed Miliband is promising Nicola Sturgeon (at least according to the slightly hysterical Tory press).
Thirdly, soon enough multiculturalism is going to catch up with Labour. As David Goodhart pointed out the other day, the party ‘is now getting between a third to half of all its votes in England from ethnic minorities’ and this is dangerous.
The people’s party may well be going down the same road as the US Democrats, who have become a party of rich, urban liberals and ethnic minorities. Although multiculturalism may favour the Left of centre party in theory, in the States the increase in ethnic diversity since 1965 has led to the Democrats losing huge numbers of working-class whites to the Republicans; the GOP now commands up to 90 per cent of white votes in the deep south, but can muster 2 out of 3 even in the mid-Atlantic states. There’s no reason why, in parts of Lancashire and Yorkshire where British segregation is most pronounced, the same won’t happen.
As Goodhart says: ‘The danger we face is the racialization of British politics, where the Conservatives represent most white people and Labour is the ethnic minority party. That would be bad for democracy.’
I would say it’s inevitable, although as in America some minorities are more bloc-like than others; African-Americans are overwhelmingly Democrat, Hispanics and Asians less so. In Britain Muslims, mainly south Asian, are the equivalent of African-Americans in being the main adversarial culture (in Christopher Caldwell’s words), and they are solidly Labour.
(Hindus and Sikhs are slowly becoming more Conservative, but I wonder how much that is to do with the Tories becoming de-Enochified, and how much, as with the rightwards shift of British Jews, it is a subliminal response to Labour becoming seen as too close to Islam.)
The danger for Labour is that where it is seen as the Muslim party, it is almost certainly likely to lose other voters. In the north of England these people might not go to the Conservatives, for historic reasons, but Ukip are pretty confident that come the next election they will take a number of Labour seats. Five more years of high-level immigration and more ‘Islamophobia’ laws are not going to make things any better.
All of this should give pause for concern for Labour, especially in their traditional heartlands; maybe that whole Spinal Tap stone of destiny thing was all part of a brilliantly clever strategy after all. There really is no other logical explanation for it.