Tuesday 11 May 2010

Wait To You See The Whites Of Their Eyes

For five days there has been no government and the endless speculation in the media about negotiations for a coalition government has reached the level where, in the absence of any real developments, journalists and spin doctors are almost trading blows.

But as I start writing this, the TV is showing aerial footage of Gordon Brown on his way to Buckingham Palace to resign as Prime Minister, the general election of 2010 is finally over and we know we'll soon be facing up to a 'ConDem' enemy - either a formal coalition or a marriage of convenience.

With the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives combining to launch an unprecedented reduction in public spending, I guess the last vestiges of 'Cleggmania' are over too - and all those (like the leader writers at the Guardian) who supported the Lib Dems as a way to keep the Tories out must be feeling bloody foolish and severely betrayed tonight.

Meanwhile, having desperately tried to cling on in the hope that it could chaperone a number of smaller parties into a Lib-Lab "progressive alliance", Labour seems to have already forgotten that it was the biggest loser in the election. Some of its supporters seem to believe that a ConDem coalition is some kind of "electoral gift" and that all the party has to do is ditch Brown, choose a new leader and await a revival at a second election this year, when Labour will be presented with its opportunity to implement its own period of intense hardship at a slightly different pace.

Personally I think that if the party, having given us war in Iraq, timidity in reining in the banks after they were bailed out and repeated attacks on civil liberties, thinks it will naturally reclaim the support of the bloody foolish and the severely betrayed without making changes it is simply unwilling to make, it is severely deluding itself. Nor do I think a ConDem coalition will collapse as quickly as Labour supporters might expect (for this reason if no other).

Whilst New Labour tries to work out whether David Miliband or Ed Balls (God help us) is the most like Blair, what it won't be doing is what you might expect an opposition to do - actively opposing the cuts themselves. If it comes at all, that kind of opposition will come from outside Parliament. There are no guarantees and an alternative won't appear out of nowhere - to quote from one notable Italian, it will take "organisation, organisation and more organisation". That's why I've argued that concentrating so much energy on the election itself is rather less important than the aftermath we now face.

Whether the left of Labour manages to avoid getting sidetracked by the party's internal blood-letting and plays a significant role in a genuine alternative to the new age of austerity remains to be seen. On one level, it will of course be fun to see left-wing MPs making all those government-supporting backbench MPs squirm by calling for a debate on Trident, a policy the Lib Dems fought the election on. My blogging comrade Harpymarx believes that a leadership challenge by the MP John McDonnell "can open up political room for the left to put forward its ideas", although I remain to be convinced - but I completely agree that we need "a clear ideological account of what the left is and how to fight neoliberalism".

I've had a initial stab at suggesting a vague course of action for working out how we might try and make that happen, but we all know how sectarian and disorganised the left can be. Now that we've at last seen the whites of our new enemy's eyes, I really hope things are different this time. For once, another failure really is too terrible to contemplate.

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