How steep a mountain does Labour have to climb?

How steep a mountain does Labour have to climb?

How hard is it going to be to return to power?

There are two schools of thought in the Labour Party on the scale of the defeat at the 2010 election. Important expectations are tied to each of these and are creating a peculiar dynamic in the party right now. It sounds strange, but one year on and many of us cannot agree how badly we did and how far we are from the winning post.

The first camp led by Jon Trickett MP highlights how Labour lost the votes of 4 million manual workers since 1997. Others such as Patrick Diamond on the right of the party point to the loss of 100 seats and that the Labour’s share of the vote was its lowest since 1918.

The argument is that Labour fundamentally lost its way and needs a root and branch reform and new approach to 21st century politics. Alongside this are calls for policies to be developed to fundamentally reconnect Labour with its working/lower middle class base. Some argue new intellectual and philosophical approach ( that goes beyond simply generating new policies. It’s in this context that those around ‘Blue Labour’ have staked out riskier arguments, with at best mixed support.

The shared view is that the party needs to be shocked out of many of its old assumptions before Labour can secure its resurgence. This broad school of throught sees the problem facing the party as a fundamental one and that Labour has to reinvent itself for a new age.

The alternative and quietly spoken view is that Labour actually didn’t do that badly in the scheme of things. The Conservative Party was denied an expected outright majority and Labour were only 48 seats behind them. They point to the personal unpopularity of Gordon Brown, the collected tiredness from 13 years in office and being considerably outspent in many marginal seats. The argument is if Cameron couldn’t win then, he never will.

This camp believes Labour ‘dodged a bullet’ in 2010 having at one point been polling in third place after the leadership debates. They believe David Cameron hasn’t entirely connected with the public, see the collapse of the Liberal Democrat vote and believe Labour is perfectly poised to win the most seats at the next election, if not gain an outright majority. They are much more cautious about fundamentally revising the direction of the party and argue the Government’s own unpopularity combined with some moderate Labour refinements will be sufficient for victory.

In many ways these are the most significant divides in the party now. It’s not ‘old Labour’ versus ‘new Labour’ but ‘about turn’ against ‘steady as she goes’. How others view the scale of the 2010 defeat can make a difference to the party’s future success. Media commentators play a role in creating the mood music to which politics is reported. Donors are also a guide. A recent £1 million corporate donation to Labour suggests some think Labour regaining power at the next election is far from a lost cause. I’ll be noting the corporate presence at the forthcoming Labour Party conference with interest. Perhaps the soundest guide right now is the bookmakers’. The odds suggest there’s not much in it, with the Tories remain a 5/6 chance with and Labour a top-priced 5/4 with to win the most seats.

How Ed Miliband views the lessons of the 2010 election will determine much of Labour’s forthcoming policy review. He publicly speaks of the scale of defeat but the temptation to play it safe could seem irresistible. It’s through the competing perspectives of what happened a year ago that Miliband’s leadership will be shaped by and ultimately judged.

HenryG Manson @henrygmanson

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