Is Labour dead? You are no longer shocked by the question.
But let’s quantify. By dead we don’t mean not living, not functioning as Her Majesty’s Opposition, instead we mean dead as a viable political project that caries our hopes of a much better and different society. Is it dead in that sense?
The answer has to be – possibly. And the evidence for such damning ambivalence on such a dramatic point of existence is not so much the election result, terrible at it was, but paucity of the debate since, how the world is changing so fast around Labour and the seeming inability of the party to self-reflect and therefore know how to renew. The debate, as Labour starts to disappear in the rear view mirror of history, hasn’t been about how the party takes its place in a better vision of the future, but which version of the past it would most like to go back to.
On the one hand you have the 97ers, the Blairite tribune band wannabes, whose golden hits of aspiration, southern discomfort, Mondeo Man, Worcester Women and rights and responsibilities are now being reprised. Waitrose Woman anyone?
But a re-run of New Labour is no longer feasible even if it was desirable. New Labour was a onetime political move based on 18 years of Tory misrule and 60 consecutive quarters of growth that allowed the party to paper over lots of cracks and, for a short while, keep everyone in a big tent. That is until the contradictions became so great that 5 million shuffled out and it ended on a 35 per cent strategy in 2005 (sound familiar?) and the biggest financial crash since the 1930s. And New Labour was only possible because, back then, there was no electoral competition from the left – no meaningful challenge from the Greens, the SNP and no Ukip. Finally, it was based around a model of party control and iron discipline that can’t be repeated in an age of social media and is impossible to imagine without the existence of a once in a generation political operator – Mr. T Blair. There is no turning back to 1997.
But neither is there any turning back to 1945. So it goes, if only we would stand up for our class in the way they stand up for theirs, then all would be well and the forward march of Labour could be resumed. But 1945 wasn’t only possible because of conviction, but the direct experience of the war, the looming presence of the Soviet Union, which offered a direct threat to western capitalism, and the existence of a large and well-organized working class. But everything that once made Labour so strong was lost decades ago. We have been living of the vapors and the scale of Labour’s political weakness is now becoming horribly apparent.