Orgy in reverse

David Cameron, the next United Kingdom Prime Minister, will have a task on his hands to repair the country following the disruptive and damaging effects of a Labour administration whose attitude towards economic stability appears as haphazard as the attitude of drunk youths outside a backstreet bar on a Friday night. If history truly is cyclical rather than linear, Cameron’s post-election strategy will be almost identical to that of Margaret Thatcher in 1979: taking a country bankrupted by a Labour Government and doing as much as possible to improve things.

The circles of history are concentric; while Prime Minster Cameron starts his new career path, the Labour opposition will be following their early 80s comrades by electing a new leader….and potentially splitting up. If the post-ideological age we now live in truly has blurred the distinctions between “left” and “right”, “Labour” and “Conservative” voters, “working” and “middle” classes, what chance a revival of Labour’s 1980s leadership woes and “Gang of Four” declaration?

Political anoraks have often supposed and chin-stroked that the United Kingdom is overdue a massive shake-up of her political parties. Not since 1988 has there been the launch of a new mainstream party – the Liberal Democrats – and following this only a number of fringe groups have appeared on the extremes of each political wing. RESPECT on the left, the England First Party on the right, neither with any lasting credibility. In Scotland, the Scottish Socialist Party, and Solidarity, had fleeting appearances in the Scottish Parliament. Both are now in serious decline.

One often repeated “what if” is the re-emergence of a Social Democratic Party (the name remains in British politics, if only in a tiny fashion, in the guise of a number of borough councillors in Bridlington). Take some Blairite Labour MPs, mix with disgruntled Tories and LibDems, and hey-ho, there’s the new face of 21st century British politics. Conservatives on one side, a SDP-type on the other, with far smaller “rump” socialist Labour, and “traditional” Liberal parties on the edge.

History suggested how this may have worked following the formation of the (initially loose) SDP/Liberal alliance in the 1983 and 1987 elections. Tantalisingly close to beating Labour at one point, the experiment ultimately failed. By 1988, the Alliance had grown into full merger, hence the LibDems, but notably the Tony Blair inspired modernisation of Labour introduced far more social-democratic policies than socialist.

The identity of the next Labour leader has been the subject of much “parlour games” too. Alan Johnson remains the most often repeated “clear favourite”. Whoever is chosen – a newly de-Baroned Peter Mandleson? – would do well not to repeat history entirely. Labour nearly died once following a Conservative victory, to come close to death again in a very different political age could be ultimately fatal. They begin their Conference nearly 20 points behind the Conservatives in the opinion polls, with Gordon Brown only celebrated abroad not at home, without any Cabinet member making the running in the media. The signs for a Labour recovery are very faint, it’s the parents looking at their very old family dog knowing there’s no time left but unsure how to break the sad news to the children. It’s the writing of the obituary while the subject is recovering from a nasty cough.

David Cameron, Prime Minister, is one certainty. What will follow for Labour is anybody’s guess. A bad Conference is the last thing they need right now. A little bit of history repeating would be their worst nightmare.

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