It has been interesting to watch Labour in opposition, both locally and nationally. After 13 years in power they are struggling to come to terms with the fact that the public turfed them out of office. There seems to be an inate belief that people should like them because they see themselves as the party of truth, compassion and fairness. There is no comprehension that many members of the public feel betrayed by Labour, lied to by Blair and let down by Brown. Locally their campaign is entirely negative and too many of their candidates are deficit deniers who do not comprehend the mess that Labour left behind them. Nationally Ed Miliband has yet to make much of an impression but there is a persistent feeling that Labour has a unhealthy relationship with the Trades Unions and that the younger Miliband is not the right man to lead Labour, let alone the nation.
Labour has an assumption that all Conservatives are greedy, selfish and wealthy. Their attitude towards the Lib Dems is one of confused contempt. Labour saw the Lib Dems as natural allies and cannot yet come to terms that the Lib Dems found a lot of common cause with the modern Conservatives on the more liberal wing of the party and with David Cameron especially.
The problem facing Labour is that until they come to terms with how they are seen they will not win again. This was the lesson that we Conservatives had to learn after 1997. It took a long time and several leaders before the public was prepared to trust us again. I think Labour will face a similar political exile. There is a widespread feeling that whilst there definitely was a world banking crisis, the main reason for Britain’s economic woes was the uncontrolled spending undertaken during Gordon Brown’s time at the Treasury. People have not forgotten the Iraq war or the dodgy dossier, the Mandelson resignations, the boom and bust, the devastation of our pension funds, or the failure to tackle poverty.
I used to have some respect for Labour. I saw them as wrong on many issues but sincere and well meaning. Many of their elected representatives were from the old Christian Socialist tradition, principled and determined to address issues holding people back. There are sadly few of them left now. Frank Field MP springs to mind as one outstanding example. However, under Tony Blair Labour appeared to sell its soul. The party adopted the politics of convenience rather than principle. It smeared its opponents personally while cosying up to “celebrities” and the nouveau riche. Who will forget the people smeared as racist or bigoted? The elderly ladies Rose Addis and Gillian Duffy found out what senior Labour people thought of them.
Labour in Reading are not much different. On at least two occasions during recent local elections senior local Labour members have sought to smear Conservative candidates. In both cases they were minority ethnic candidates who Labour clearly felt should owe their loyalty to the Labour party. The other stock tactic is to smear people personally as racist or far right. The assumption is that all Conservatives must be racist or far right unless proven otherwise. It is a mindset that cannot comprehend how a successful Asian businessman could be a Conservative, or a single mum, or someone who is gay or lesbian. All of these people are assumed to be Labour client groups and to be otherwise is a betrayal in their eyes. The Conservative Group on Reading Borough Council is undoubtedly the most diverse and broad-based political group on the Council. That is one of our strengths.
We work so well with the local Lib Dems because both sides entered into the coalition with a positive attitude towards eachother, despite past differences. We have found that we like and respect eachother and share more common ground than either side probably expected. When we do have differences we discuss them and come to an agreed position. We then unite and defend eachother from Labour’s inevitable attacks. It is grown up politics and despite the difficult situation we face, we are implementing much of our respective manifestos and the Coalition Agreement.
On 5th May the people of Reading will pass their judgement on the ruling Conservative / Lib Dem coalition and the opposition Labour Party. From the messages I am receiving, the majority of people realise that we are making a difference in Reading, getting things back on track and prepared to listen to what people want. This is a stark contrast with the previous Labour administration. Until Labour wake up, realise that things have changed, learn a little humility and apologise, they will languish in the powerlessness of opposition.
William Hague summarised Labour’s record in Government very effectively at the 2009 Conservative Party Conference:
UPDATE: This is a very good and insightful article on Labour’s predicament.