Monday, May 12, 2008

The Final Tally.

The last three weeks have been amongst the most interesting and critical in British politics in a generation, but inevitably, I have been so busy that blogging has been very sparse indeed.

In fact I think we have indeed seen one of the fabled tipping points in British Politics that seems to come once in a generation. many will say that the catastrophic defeats inflicted on the Labour Party in the local elections are simply the mark of the swing of the political pendulum. The Conservatives having avoided their own meltdown are now poised to recover. However, I think that this actually understates the chaos in the Labour Party. It is not just in the marginal areas that labour are going down- though the numbers are truly appalling from the Labour perspective. It is in the very heartland of Labour that they are losing their strength. In Wales, they lost control of Blaenau Gwent, Caerphilly, Merthyr Tydfil, Flintshire, Newport and Torfaen, leaving them in control of just two councils in the Principality. In the English Cities, Labour no longer control Wolverhampton, Hartlepool, Reading, and of course lost in London too.

Undeniably the Conservatives are triumphant- gains across the board with some very few crucial exceptions. Those exceptions, interestingly include many places with Liberal Democrat MPs: Colchester, Eastleigh, Cambridge, Purbeck (which covers Mid Dorset), Portsmouth South, Cheltenham, South Lakeland. Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats took control in St Albans (admittedly by a fluke of the electoral system), Burnley, Hull and Sheffield and also did well in Rochdale, Oldham and Stockport- these last four also places with Liberal Democrat MPs. Liverpool was a weaker result, but the party retains control with the defection of an independent. Overall, with the exception of Romsey and the seats in South West London, owing the rather unique circumstances of the London election, the Liberal Democrats have managed to secure their position, where they needed to win.

However, the situation for Labour is bleak indeed. In Scotland- of which much more in a later blog- they seem poised to follow the Conservatives towards destruction. In Wales, they face real challenges for the first time. In the Northern Cities they face pressure from an emerging anti-Labour axis. So, the political atmosphere is now full of Conservative hope, and Labour fear.

Yet this may not be the swing of the pendulum- it may be that the long overdue complete realignment of British politics is underway. Labour have long ago lost their intellectual foundation, and in time the New Labour renaissance may prove to have been the dying fall.

The loss of the charismatic and controversial Tony Blair now draws attention to the fact that Labour are rudderless. The government founded on managerialism is bereft of new ideas and has let the Conservatives take the high ground even in the key areas that Labour thought it owned: the issues of poverty and inequality.

These elections are indeed the beginning of the end for Labour. The question is what can Labour do to avoid not merely defeat, but destruction?

This creates a question to strike fear into the hearts of the Milbank set, but a real quandary for the Liberal Democrats. If the Liberal Democrats can avoid the squeeze, and retain a significant body of MPs, then the platform to change the structure and not merely the political inclination of British politics becomes more open. The question for the Liberal Democrats now is how to articulate the need not only to change the party of government, but also the system of government.

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