Forest of Dean & Wye Valley

POST-ELECTION EDITORIAL COMMITTEE COMMENT

In Editorial on June 24, 2010 at 3:56 pm

The Election: did we really vote for what we got?

Drama, suspense, and a twist at the end. The election had everything that even the most hardened political pundit could wish for. The only trouble for the media commentators was that there were so many changes in the plot line along the way that they kept tripping up as they tried to keep up with events. It was even more convoluted than a Forest of Dean road map.

Before the election campaign even started, Cameron was confident of sweeping all before him. Brown’s government seemed to be totally discredited, and, hey, the Tories had gained the backing of Murdoch and his media empire. What could go wrong? The Labour vote would surely disintegrate. And as for the Liberal Democrats, they posed no problem.

Then came those party leaders’ debates on television, and suddenly Nick Clegg’s star seemed to take off like a rocket on bonfire night. Indeed, some opinion polls were breathlessly suggesting that he could beat Labour into third place. Of course, when it came to the crunch, Labour’s vote held up surprisingly well in its heartland constituencies (though, sadly, not in our neck of the woods). The Liberal Democrats’ total tally of seats actually declined – and Cameron failed to get his overall majority. Ironically, the ball was now in Clegg’s court. It was up to him to decide who would form the next Government.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Like all good cliff hangers, we were kept waiting whilst negotiations went on behind closed doors – and we all know the outcome. In retrospect, Clegg had already muffed his chances to do a deal with Labour. Whatever spin one puts on it, we now have a Tory Government by default – with a smattering of Lib Dems as junior partners. And we must all face up to the consequences.

The election in itself failed to re-draw the political map, but its aftermath has serious implications for both the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties. With the resignation of Gordon Brown, Labour now has to decide who will be its new leader – and in which direction it will be led.

As for the Liberal Democrats, have they now backed themselves into a corner? Only time will tell, but as we see it Clegg and his fellow Lib Dems in government will have to give public support to decisions made by a Tory-dominated Cabinet even if some of these stick in their throats. Already the axe is poised on public spending – and all that the Liberal Democrats have gained is a few seats in government – and the promise of a referendum on voting reform!

It is unlikely that this will go down well with the more progressive elements within the Liberal Democrat Party – or many of those who voted for them. In the Forest of Dean, for example, the Lib Dems increased their vote – but how many of those who backed them this time round will repeat the exercise next time?

Much, of course, depends on how long this present Government hangs on to power – and how much influence the Tory right wing has on its policies.  As for the Labour Party, it now has to decide which direction to take in opposition. First, it must elect a new leader. The pack of cards is already being shuffled as candidates for the post throw their hats into the ring. Party members and supporters will know the result in September.

As we see it, however, the “New Labour” experiment has run its course – and not before time. The attempt to impose a finance-based economy, where the demands of the City were always put first, has now run into the buffers. The Labour Party and its leadership must surely re-examine its role and throw overboard much of the excess baggage it’s collected since 1997.

Already, David Miliband (one of the first to declare his interest) has declared that there is no going back to “New Labour”. Instead, he says, he’s interested in “Next Labour”. But does that merely mean a bit of re-branding, maybe a re-paint job and a few cosmetic changes – or a real change of direction?

Labour urgently needs to re-connect with its roots. It can no longer afford to take its supporters for granted. And this means, amongst other things, an overhaul of party structure.

Under Blair, party democracy was undermined, and the membership was regarded as necessary but all too often as a tiresome inconvenience. Thousands, of course, responded by resigning or lapsing their membership.

One example of the changes that need to be made is that to Labour’s annual conference. Once it was an exercise in party democracy – often lively, occasionally acrimonious, but an occasion for delegates to debate real issues that they felt strongly about. Then during the Blair years it was transformed into a showcase for the “achievements” of the party leadership (all for the benefit of the media), in which healthy debate was stifled.

A return to healthy party democracy is surely a prerequisite to any other changes that the leadership may have in store.

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