Labour Difficulty, Tory Opportunity?

Mick posted a great piece today that referred in detail to a column that the Guardian’s Zoe Williams wrote. Williams argues that Labour’s current travails will be good for the party in the long run as over time the party’s future direction will begin to formulate. It’s a similar argument put forward by Dan Hodges at the beginning of the summer. At that stage Hodges quoted a shadow cabinet minister who said that:

“We need blood on the carpet. Then, when we’ve spilt blood, we need to rip the carpet up and expose what’s underneath, irrespective of what gets revealed.

Looking back, however, Hodges was clearly hoping the leadership election campaign would be the forum for this, not after the event!

Labour doesn’t have time to have this internal debate and while it tries to figure out its future direction, the Conservatives are doing everything they can to try to kill the party stone dead. Today I came across an interesting piece written by another Guardian columnist, Owen Jones. This covered a range of moves that the Government have made recently to hobble opposition parties, particularly Labour. Love him or loathe him, Jones does make some interesting points about Tory efforts to reshape the electoral playing field.

Essentially Jones is arguing that the Conservatives have concocted a range of policies designed to hamstring Labour and all but guarantee Conservative hegemony for at least the next decade. These include proposed boundary changes, the Trade Union Bill, the ‘Gagging Bill’ that was introduced in the last parliament, changes to the electoral register that could see an additional 2.5 million people drop off it, and the proposed reduction in short money, snuck out in the Autumn Statement a few weeks ago. Indeed, the issue of short money was raised on these pages recently by David McCann, who focused on its impact on the local parties, but there is no doubt that the primary target for this is Her Majesty’s Opposition.

Taken together, each of the measures identified above will severely restrict Labour’s ability to fight the next general election (Jim Pickard of the FT estimates that Labour could lose as much as £25m over this parliament). But how does Labour devise a strategy to combat such an all-out assault when it can’t get its own house in order, with clear schisms in the shadow cabinet, divisions between left and right in the party, MPs and grassroots members? The party conference and the avoidance of a debate on trident came and went without these divisions pouring out in the open, but the entirely unforeseen terrorist attacks in Paris in November brought divisive issues such as foreign affairs, shoot-to-kill and immigration to the fore, the kind of issues that the leadership wanted off the agenda to avoid a stand-off with right-leaning MPs.

The longer the very public disagreements continue, the party is doing all of the Tories’ bidding. At the very least the parliamentary party must get its act together. If they wish to be considered an alternative party of government, they’ll certainly need to act like it, something they have spectacularly failed to do over the last few weeks.

EDIT: George Eaton from the New Statesman has just published a piece on a similar theme this evening.