From what I can tell by following Labour activists on Twitter and in the blogs it would appear that quite a few of them seem to think that they will be back in power in a few short years' time.
The argument goes that the new Lib Dem/Conservative coalition cannot last. It will likely fall apart at some point in the next few years. The argument also seems to be that the Lib Dems will be tainted by office and also squeezed with Labour able to claim that a vote for us is effectively a vote for the Tories. Finally, the government itself will have to take such difficult financial decisions that it is all but inevitable that a battered public will rush willingly into the arms of Labour at the next election.
I am afraid I don't buy it.
I think Labour activists are in danger of underestimating just how damaged their own party brand already is. They may not have lost as many seats as they feared they would (partly at least through smart deployment of resources where it really counted) but their vote share dropped by 7 percentage points (or almost a fifth) compared to 2005. The only reason this looks sort of OK to them is because of how much worse it looked like it could have been in some of the polls running up to the election. It is still a terrible result.
Although the government will of course have to take tough decisions on tax and spending (which will mean tax rises and spending cuts) is it really credible that the public will just forget who was in power for the last 13 years? I know that Gordon Brown and his ministers always tried to blame the rest of the world for the financial crisis but I do not think people buy this really. Yes the rest of the world has suffered too but we were one of the last countries to emerge from recession (weakly) and there were specific things encouraged by Brown (such as the house price bubble) which made it worse for us.
I think the idea that the public in a few years time will have forgotten all about the Labour government was like during its 13 years is let's say optimistic.
Labour may also be misjudging what could happen to the Lib Dems in office. Now I should start with this point by conceding that it is quite possible that they might be right here. We are in unchartered territory with this new coalition and it could indeed transpire that following this period in office the Lib Dems suffer very badly electorally as the two party squeeze and the electoral system works against it. However I would say it is equally possible that an effect Labour are not expecting could happen. Perhaps the government is relatively successful and perceived as such. Perhaps some of the policies that are clearly Lib Dem in origin (such as the £10,000 tax threshold) are implemented during its lifetime and the public at large very much like them. Having had a taste of what a Lib Dem influenced government can do, would they really be so keen to punish them at the ballot box?
(As an aside on this point, so many political commentators seem so sure that the Lib Dems will definitely suffer from this deal. To repeat, I agree it is certainly possible and we need to try and guard against it but frankly we are through the looking glass and nobody really knows how the public will ultimately react to this unusual (in post-war historical terms) way of doing politics.)
I should just caveat all of this by pointing out that I am not predicting here that everything will be peachy for the entire lifetime of this government. I am merely saying that this default assumption that Labour will be perfectly placed after a few years in opposition to be straight back in is by no means certain.
Perhaps Labour activists should have a look at what happened to Labour the last time they lost office in 1979. There were many in the party then who, having been battered by the financial markets and having weathered the "Winter of Discontent" welcomed a period of opposition and leaving Margaret Thatcher to have to take the difficult decisions in the early 80s. Many of them assumed they would be back soon after. In the event it took 18 years of bitter opposition and 4 changes of leader before they were ready to take government again.
Labour could be making a very big mistake if they just assume the pendulum will swing straight back towards them.