Now that the Labour leadership election is over, this curious phoney war – where the only people able to do any useful attacking (and that in a generally coded internecine fashion) were the candidates themselves – will also shortly consume itself. In a sense, what we have had over the past four months is a kind of honeymoon of Obama-like proportions. The Coalition government has had its ups and downs but Labour has had no real focus point around which to congregate. On the other hand, the fact that there has been no real focus point has meant that the evil part of the newspaper industry (to use a Reaganesque adjective) has simply failed to throw any lasting punches. Whilst you’ve still not got a leader, it all seems so irrelevant. You can continue to mean anything and everything to every man and woman.
Which I guess is what happened to Obama. It can’t be all that difficult to gather around you the lashing forces of dissatisfaction when your message is simply “Let’s get them out!”. It must be far more difficult, however, to keep your rainbow coalition together once the process of definition begins. Once, that is, the choices begin to close down your options and freedoms to appeal emotionally to all and sundry.
Thus it is that here in Britain the progressive side of the political spectrum has had an easy ride during this Labour leadership campaign. Unfortunately, as Obama has shown, the job of opposition and then getting elected to office does not necessarily require the same skills as that of government itself.
It will soon be the turn of the British Labour Party to go through this process of definition. The newspaper industry, that evil part I mentioned, will be looking to fire off the first salvos as it attempts to caricature whichever candidate comes first, in the hope that – through some Pavlovian process of squalid parental imprinting – the first impression serves to negatively define the next five years of Coalition opposition.
But as Paul and Tom indicate, what we – now in opposition – must all be conscious of is that the country demands a coalition to fight the Coalition. And that coalition must be built on a recognition of plurality, of sense and sensibility.
I’m not only talking about an internal coalition within the Labour Party itself – though the Lord only knows how difficult this has sometimes been to achieve. I’m also talking about reaching proactively out to people and organisations one might not normally wish or aim to be associated with.
There are plenty of people inside the two political parties now in government who will tell you privately what they dare not say in public.
I’m not suggesting it is now our task to prise them away from their natural homes but, rather, that we should understand how our message must be wrought to allow them to bring pressure to bear on their own political colleagues.
I mentioned a while ago that the Coalition would recreate the poison of the Cold War. In some smaller and more parochial way of course.
I think this is true. I think that too many people in both the Tory Party and the Lib Dems are now going through a process of hiding away in the privacy of their own homes and families pronouncements and beliefs they will not be able to make public. The cruel dynamic of “you’re either with us or against us” will dominate political discourse on the right of the political spectrum for many years to come. Perhaps not their bloggers or writers, who – thankfully – have always shown a penchant for the maverick. But, certainly, in local and backbench politics such an atmosphere can only begin to prevail.
So where should the coalition we create to fight the Coalition stand in relation to all of this? Arguably, tendentiously perhaps, in the context of a desire to subvert. Yes. You heard me right. Constitutionally of course, but with an absolute clarity of purpose.
A casual talent for oppression – which, in its obfuscation and pretty words this Coalition has in those industrial quantities I think I heard referred to yesterday – needs to be recognised for what it is from the start. Only if we manage to generate our own caricature from that start can we hope to have any chance of convincing our coalition to be anything more than a rainbow.
This is the Cold War Part II then? You better believe it. Time to play “hunt the dove, fight the hawk”.
For understanding it thus and where politics will lead us will then allow us to acquire a road map of formidable proportions.
A road map I’m pretty sure we are going to need over the next five years.