Labour: the new Lib Dems?
Martin Bright wrote an excellent blog for the Spectator last week in which he claimed that, to all intents and purposes, Labour is now Britain’s ‘third party’. His case, damningly put, was that ‘Labour just does not matter all that much. Having its ideas filched is the best it can hope for, at least for the time being.’ I think he’s more right than he knows, Labour aren’t simply becoming the third party they’re directly morphing into the Liberal Democrats.
Let’s look at the evidence. For years it was a running, Westminster-bubble joke that the Lib Dems were Britain’s biggest think tank. The premise being that every so often the yellows would come out with an idea whose time had come and that – like the work of all good think-tanks – would be immediately pilfered by one of the grown-up parties. Devolution, school reform, reform to the House of Lords, the pupil premium, restoring public health responsibilities to Local Authorities – whatever on might think of these policies on their own, they were dreamt up by Liberals and quickly snatched by Labour, Conservatives or both.
And so, with the much-heard whine from Miliband supporters that his clothes are being stolen by Cameron and Clegg on press regulation, lobbying, responsible capitalism etc. we see Labour stepping into Liberal Democrat shoes. Yes, the Coalition parties have nicked lots of the rhetoric and some of the (saner) policy – but they can get away with it. Why? Because as with the pre-2010 Lib Dems, Ed Miliband doesn’t just have the diamonds that have emerged from his party’s thinking space, he has the dreck too. So while Dave and Nick can pick and choose from Ed’s wardrobe – taking only those pieces that are fashionable and that fit – he is still burdened with a load of tat from the 80s that’s coming apart at the seams. For every pay-ratio transparency measure there’s an opposition to the benefits cap.
What Labour do about this, I don’t know. Short of silencing a whole wing of their party they appear doomed to Lib Demery for sometime. But Labour supporters cheering a rare victory for Ed Miliband at PMQs today should be wary of too much triumphalism. Vince Cable used to regularly rip Brown to pieces in his brief stint as leader of Britain’s third party – didn’t do him, or them, any good in the end.