Thoughts on politics and life from a liberal perspective

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Who will be the next Labour PM?

Before I start it is worth considering that there may never be another Labour PM. If they fall into internecine squabbling after the general election it is always possible that the hollowed out husk of what's left might eventually implode. For the purposes of this post though I am assuming that this does not happen.

I just wanted to run through a bit of the history of the last 50 years to show how the more recent trend for the next PM after a party changing election has not been obvious.

Here is a quick list of General elections and where the next opposition PM was at the time when power changed hands:

1964 - When Harold Wilson became PM, Edward Heath had already been an MP for 14 years and had been Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, Lord Privy Seal, Minister for Labour and Secretary of State for Industry. It was no surprise when a year later he became Leader of the Opposition.

1970 - When Heath became PM, the next opposition PM was the outgoing PM, Wilson himself!

1974 - When Wilson became PM again, Margaret Thatcher had been Education Secretary. It was a bit of a surprise when she became Leader of the Opposition in 1975 and not many would have laid money on her being PM in 1979 back when Heath first lost office. The smart money would have been on someone like Willie Whitelaw.

1979 - When Margaret Thatcher became PM, the next opposition PM, Tony Blair was completely unknown and was still a few years away from even entering parliament. At that point nobody would have guessed that the next Labour PM was 18 years away. People like Denis Healey, David Owen and even Michael Foot were being touted as future PMs at this point. Indeed Healey is still viewed as one of the best PMs we never had.

If David Cameron becomes PM this year... In 1997 he was a former junior party advisor and strategist who was working in the PR department for Carlton TV. He didn't even have a seat in parliament. All the talk in terms of a future Tory PM was of when Michael Portillo was going to get back into the Commons and seize the leadership.

The reason I am going through all of this is because a lot of the discussion in and around the Labour Party is focusing on who will succeed Gordon and who might be the next Labour Prime Minister. Could it be Ed Balls (*shudder*), James Purnell, David Miliband or even his younger brother Ed? But the recent history shows us that when a party loses power, there really is no telling when they will get back in again and who the leader will be when they do. The odds are that if Labour do have a Prime Minister again in the future, he or she may not even be an MP yet. Perhaps it would be more fruitful to look at some of the junior advisors to the current cabinet or even some of the Labour activists currently making a splash in the blogosphere if you were looking for a long term bet. You'd certainly get good odds!

Of course my argument here is based on the assumption that changes of party in government happen quite rarely which has been true for the last 30-odd years but may not be true in the future. Indeed I hope it is not. But if Cameron does squeak a majority then we already know he is going to try and redraw the electoral map to make it easier for the Conservatives to win in a subsequent election and incumbency can be a powerful weapon if used well.

So don't be surprised if the next Labour PM is someone that you won't have heard of even several years from now.


DeeDee99 said...

I think your statement "if Cameron does squeak a majority .... he is going to try and redraw the electoral map to make it easier for the Conservatives to win in a subsequent election" is, to put it politely, misleading.

As things stand at the moment, a large majority of constituencies which tend to support Labour, have a much smaller electoral roll than those which tend to vote Conservative.

At the last election, the Tories won the popular vote in England, but this did not translate into constituencies because of this distortion. The gerry-mandered Devolution settlement, where Scottish MPs can vote on English-only matters further distorts the system in Labour's favour.

All Cameron is proposing is a very welcome reductioon in the number of MPs by 10% (I'd rather it was 25%) and for constituency sizes to be standardised with a small +/- deviation from the average.

That sounds fair to me - not 'making it easier for the Tories to win.' Unless, of course, you consider it is fair for the size of constituencies to be determined according to whether or not they tend to vote Labour.

Mark Thompson said...

DD99 - I am well aware of exactly what Cameron is planning although I would not characterise it in the same terms as you.

From my perspective it is taking an appalingly bad electoral system which allows parties to get a majority of seats on a minority of the votes and fiddling with it in order to improve the chances for the Conservatives to get a majority of the seats on an even smaller minority of the votes. At the same time deploying any and every argument he can muster to completely refuse to countenance that there might be a fundamental problem with a system which gives the third party 10% of the seats on 22% of the vote and ensures smaller parties fare even worse.

So I do not think what I said was misleading. He is fiddling with a bent electoral system to tilt it even further in favour of his own party. My description of what he is up to was actually quite mild because I didn't want to derail my own post.

DeeDee99 said...

I understand your disgruntlement with the current electoral system but with respect, I think that is a different matter to the point I was making.

Cameron is talking about ensuring that all Constituency sizes are virtually the same, so that the playing field is at least level for ALL the parties in each constituency. He is therefore making the current FPTP system a bit better. But I do realise this doesn't suit the LibDems and you would prefer a Prop.Rep. system for obvious reasons.

I tend to agree with your final statement. The next Labour PM is probably not even in Parliament yet. Mind you, I hope there isn't a 'next Labour PM.' Every time Labour gets into power it destroys the economy. I think Clegg and Cable should be going after Labour this time around - we need a new HM Opposition.

asquith said...

I never believed any of this about Labour imploding, as people used to say they were going to prior to their recent mini-recovery. I always thought it was right-wing wishful thinking.

The fact is that we're in a terrible situation as a country, & anyone who monitors the shadow cabinet knows them to be completely shite. They are actually even worse than I thought they were 6 months ago. Even if they weren't they'd have a mammoth task.

So I think Camoron will become unpopular much sooner than Blair, & it will be Labour that is the focal point for the slagging-off. Any leader who goes anywhere near the soft left will be hailed, if he can distance himself from Blair & Brown in the public's eyes, regardless of whether he actually is any different.

I agree that a relative obscurity might be the next Labour PM, not one of those who'll succeed Brown, but whether it be a total unknown or someone of relative prominence who hasn't got that long to wait (8-10 years?)

If we do get a change of government, & I find it likely, I think it will be a good spectator sport to watch the real right-wing blowhards having a go. I suspect that the libertarians might lose a few of their fellow travellers, who are never quite so enraged under a Tory government, but they & the likes of UKIP could just as easily gain.

Oranjepan said...

Surely you are both making similar points, albeit from opposite perspectives - ie that MP representation must be proportional to the number of votes cast.

Constituency sizes are very difficult to standardize because of the geographic and demographic variety across the country, so to a certain extent the FPTP system will always be open to accusations of gerrymandering by its' very nature.

But it is also important to note that FPTP does also offer a form of proportionality, at least within the boundaries of any given constituency, so the important question is really how do we support the principle of proportionality appropriately.

I don't think simple reform of the means by which MPs are elected to the commons will ever be capable of doing this alone because each system of election is open to criticism.

I think the only way in which proportional representation can be made fairer is by wide-ranging constitutional reform whereby membership of all the constituent houses of UK parliament (Commons, Lords, devolved government and local government councils) is decided appropiately, according to the composition of the chamber - just as the powers held by each house balances those of the others, so too the systems by which they are each composed should balance each other.

I would also hold all annual elections simultaneously.

For the purposes of democracy I think this would force parties and officials to educate the public, simplify the logistical arrangements and create a focus for electoral democracy which couldn't be manipulated by party electoral interests or distract the public from the practical issues which affect our lives.

I would turn it into a movable public holiday (announced at least 9 months in advance) to reward the public and call it V-Day to evoke the symbol of what people have fought for (every day is D-Day, V-Day happens only once!).

But as for who will be the next Labour PM, I think that depends on who wins the coming debate on whether to offer continuity, change or compromise.

I saw Major as a change from Thatcher, which was then reversed by Howard and Hague and Cameron is a compromise between the two sides.

Brown is a compromise from Blair, who was a change from everything before him, so I suspect it will be very difficult for the members to accept anything but ideological continuity, which puts them in a very awkward electoral position.

So I agree with both Mark and 'sqiff that some splintering will occur, but I think it is likely to happen around the edges not through their heart.

Cardinal Richelieu's mole said...

Concerning the "bent electoral system", note it actually has favoured the New Labour Party rather than anyone else, so claims

As for "So don't be surprised if the next Labour PM is someone that you won't have heard of even several years from now" er - yes, tell me something I don't know! :-)

Letters From A Tory said...

Very possible that the next Labour PM will be a nobody. The likes of Harman, Miliband and Balls are tainted beyond salvation with their association to Brown, so it will need a clean slate before the voters will believe Labour are offering something distant from Blair/Brown.