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Saturday, December 08, 2007

The next decade is ours

Martin Kettle will be the toast of Liberal Democrats everywhere this morning following his astute and insightful Guardian column.

Mr. Kettle argues that we are at a 'tipping point' in British politics. This was the year, he says, that was supposed to revitalise Labour but as it comes to a close, the government's standing is as low as it ever was under Blair. 'In one recent poll Labour's support was down to 27%, worse than even at the 1983 general election. Brown has the whole thing to do all over again - and popularity is harder to win the second time around. With economic uncertainty beginning to bear down on the government, the commonsense conclusion has to be that Labour's era of ascendancy is now drawing to a close.

This is not to say that Labour is incapable of either mounting some sort of recovery in the spring or sustaining it. Even the most confident Tories recognise that it will be hard to sustain the assault on the Brown government at the level of intensity of the past two months. Similarly, there is no iron law that says governments cannot renew themselves even when they have been in office for many years. But where is the evidence that it is happening? Most of the evidence points in the opposite direction.'

He argues that, shorn of its ideological base, Labour will find it much more difficult to recover from an election defeat than it did in 1979. In contrast and partly because of Labour's difficulties, he believes that the next decade could be one of fresh opportunities - and maybe also false dawns - for the liberal tradition in British politics:

This may seem a cavalier claim to make at a time when the Liberal Democrats are struggling in the mid-teens of public support and when the party is subjecting a less than wholly galvanised public to a second leadership election in less than two years. Nevertheless, if Labour really is now facing defeat, the way may be opening not just for a stronger than expected Lib Dem performance in the next election but even, during the coming decade, for its long-sought breakthrough at the expense of the two larger parties.

He concludes: 'Ten years ago, Blair's strategy and broad appeal held out the prospect of a new Labour party that could unite and speak for both the social justice and the liberal traditions in British progressive life. It did not happen. Instead, Labour consciously chose to spurn the liberal tradition, not just over civil liberties, but over issues stretching from foreign policy to the hunting ban.

The next 10 years will be full of temptations and dilemmas for that broad centrist majority of British voters who want to combine economic efficiency with social justice, individual liberty and internationalism. All three parties will be striving to speak for them. In the face of Labour's record and the Conservatives' history, though, this ought to be the Liberal Democrat decade. Alex Salmond has shown how an outsider party can capture the agenda in Scotland. The next phase of British politics depends on whether Clegg or Huhne can give the Lib Dems a similarly ruthless sense of mission and achievement.'

I have blogged on the very same article, albeit with some qualification.

There is enormous opportunity for a party in the liberal tradition. Commonsense dictates that a post-socialist Labour party is puposeless. It's also commonsense that in a political system a reactionary/conservative tradition will always survive, even if only in terms of the status quo.

The way forward has always been clear to me - the LDs must destroy the Labour party and take Britain back to her own radical roots.
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