Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Friday, 4 June 2010

Why Ed Balls would be a disaster for Labour

The Labour Party suffered a big defeat at the polls last month.

It may not seem like it due to quirks in our electoral system giving them far more seats than any other party would have got on 29% of the vote but that vote share is the second worst for them since before the second world war.

The voters have rejected the party. The fact that Gordon Brown stood down so quickly is an acknowledgement of this fact. He recognised that the party needed to draw a line under what had gone before and move on.

It can be very hard for governing parties to properly accept this though.

From 1979, it took Labour a very long time to recognise that things had changed and that it needed to change with them. They initially chose Michael Foot who was a disaster for them and led them to an even lower vote share than in 2010 (although to be fair he was also contending with the SDP). Neil Kinnock instituted some reforms in the 1980s but did not go far enough. It was only with Tony Blair in the 1990s that Labour fully recognised how much it had to change to win electability. That was 15 years after initial defeat. To all intents and purposes, the party that Blair led was a different one to that of Callaghan and Foot.

From 1997 it took the Conservatives over 8 years to recognise what had gone wrong and what it needed to do to become electable again. They started with William Hague who initially seemed to be trying to make his party more centrist but as the 2001 election got closer he bizarrely moved his party more to the right with some policies that just reminded people of what they had rejected in 1997. His replacement Iain Duncan Smith was such an electoral liability that the party did not even allow him to try and fight one but instead he was toppled in favour of "safe pair of hands" Michael Howard. Unfortunately although he might have been a safe choice in term of experience, again he just reminded people of what they had got rid of so comprehensively 8 years earlier. It was only under David Cameron that the "detoxification" job really began in earnest and led to the changes that eventually allowed his party to be electable once again.

So looking at recent history, the Labour Party would be mad to elect Ed Balls as its leader in 2010. He was the former PM's closest political ally. In the absence of the man himself it is the closest to continuing with Brown himself that the party could get. Nothing would communicate a message to the country that the party was not willing to change more than electing Balls.

He was interviewed by Eddie Mair a couple of weeks ago and asked which of Gordon Brown's policies he disagreed with. He was unable to give any sort of coherent answer. Unsurprising given how close the two of them were but this is precisely why Balls cannot be the change that is needed.

Labour need to ask themselves if they want at least a decade in opposition or if they want to be vying for office again in a few years time. If it is the latter then they should not touch the MP for Morley and Outwood with a barge pole.


John said...

ssshhhhhhhhh - Mark

Although I think even Labour realise this

Noetic said...

It would be a bit silly to have a leader from a marginal seat too... and I concur, ssssssh!

Chris Mills said...

Definitely agree with the shhhhhhh!

And no, Labour don't seem to realise this. There is a fair bit of support for Balls.

Matthew Doye said...

Yes, all that and he's got a silly name.