Doomsday warning: Tories and Labour are in danger

Published by The ipaper (8th May, 2016)

Austrians face a choice between two candidates in the run-off for their presidential election later this month. They can support a far-right candidate who claims to carry a gun because of the supposed dangers posed by refugees or a 72-year-old economics professor and former leader of the Greens renowned for his reticence. The two mainstream parties that have governed the country since 1945 won less than a quarter of the vote between them in the first round, defeated even by a former judge running as an independent.

This is a riposte to those complacent voices that say the rise of populism and nationalism poses no real threat to the established order since sensible forces ultimately win. Donald Trump is another rebuttal of such arguments after his amazing success in the Republican primaries, leaving voters in the United States with a similarly dismal choice for their next president. Even in Britain, with our history of moderation, parties that have dominated the national landscape for decades should not assume they have a natural role in the future.

Keep this in mind amid fallout from last week’s elections. The Liberal Democrats have already largely faded into irrelevance, ignored in most political discourse. They may have won in Watford but suffered devastating losses in Wales and were eclipsed by the Greens in both London and Scotland. Even in Liverpool, where they claim resurgence in a city they ruled until recently, they hold just four seats – the same number as the Greens, and a dismal tally compared with the 56 seats won only a decade ago.

The Tories are feeling smug. Results outside London were a triumph for a party in power, especially given the budget shambles, an explosive cabinet resignation and ceaseless U-turns on key policies. But their backfiring campaign in London was crude politics from the past that could have damaging consequences for the future, fanning the nasty party image and alienating moderate, ethnic minority and young voters. It was all too typical of the Lynton Crosby textbook; such divisive tactics should be discarded before they do more damage to party prospects. London is, after all, vanguard for an evolving society.

Meanwhile blue-on-blue wars over Brexit threaten Tory well-being, regardless of the voters’ verdict in June. It will be hard to heal these self-inflicted wounds, especially if the result is close, while the Out crowd offer succour to opposition forces with their sillier arguments. And it should not be forgotten the party’s strongest electoral asset is leaving the stage – and Downing Street – before the next ballot. At least now there is Ruth Davidson, increasingly talked about as a possible successor, who shows how politics should be played in the digital age with authentic charm and positivity.

Davidson delivered crushing defeat on Labour, underscoring in starkest possible style the depths of that party’s distress. Labour is not even in opposition in Scotland, despite claims they lost there previously because they were too right-wing. Labour lost seats across the nation when analysts said the party needed to win at least 300 to show it was on course to regain power. In stark contrast, every other new leader for half a century has enjoyed a honeymoon with gains in their first set of council elections.

Jeremy Corbyn’s buffoonish brand of politics is electoral poison, worsened by a toxic team of advisers and tiny crew of incompetent cheerleaders. Observing his performance as someone who advised David Cameron in opposition, I find it incredible how he lets others define him in the harshest light. Note that it took London’s new mayor Sadiq Khan just one day in the job to highlight his leader’s chronic ineptitude with an impressive interview on The Andrew Marr Show, demanding inclusive politics that reaches beyond the party base.

Labour is fast becoming so depressed, so divided and so pathetically devoid of policy that It is hard to argue with Angus Robertson, the SNP’s chief at Westminster, when he says his party is the most effective opposition. He justfied the claim at Prime Minister’s Questions, hammering Cameron over the cruel refusal to accept child refugees while Corbyn floundered again and again. But as both Ukip and the Greens demonstrated last week, the SNP is not the only party diminishing the chances of Labour returning to power.

Yet it is hard to have much sympathy with those moderates moaning about the leader who took control of Labour with such a thumping majority. It was, for instance, risible to see two MPs who nominated Corbyn say they now regret it because of his poor judgement, given how little acumen they displayed by supporting his standing for leader less than a year ago. Others mutter about coups and make coded warnings. In truth, few senior figures are emerging from this chaotic period in party history with reputations enhanced.

Like it or not, the Labour party has changed – with 300,000 new activists attracted by the bargain membership offer left behind like a ticking bomb by the bumbling previous leader. If Corbyn goes, his successor may be more competent but is unlikely to be a centrist that appeals to Middle England. And while they can win London, big chunks of Britain are being painted in a variety of colours apart from red. The results last week showed how fast the electoral map is changing. The Lib Dems have disappeared, Labour is becoming more irrelevant and divided, and even the Conservatives have little room for complacency.

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