Has Labour passed the point of no return?

by Stephen Tall on March 20, 2008

That’s the stark question that’s being asked today by The Times’s Peter Riddell, following two post-budget opinion polls showing support for Labour below 30% in the wake of Alastair Darling’s damp squib of a budget.

This is the first time this year that Labour support has dropped below this level, and it only occurred four times last year. This is very dangerous territory for Labour, akin to the trough into which the Conservatives plunged in the mid-1990s.

As Mr Riddell notes, Labour has been here before – but at least under Tony Blair’s leadership, supporters could hope for the political tide to turn once he departed the stage. Indeed, during Gordon Brown’s honeymoon (it seems so long ago, doesn’t it?) this was just what happened. The novelty of a new PM saw a Labour recovery.

But with the economic news becoming gloomier, and public spending facing a tight squeeze in the year ahead, it’s becoming increasingly hard to see how Labour might be able to transform their fortunes. They may well recover from the doldrums of the last few polls – but by enough to ensure a fourth term?

Is there a rabbit left in the hat for Mr Brown to pull out? Or are Labour now wholly reliant on gritting their teeth and relying on the Tories to commit hara-kiri? What one might call the ‘John Major strategy’. After all, it worked so well for Sir John.

That’s the dilemma facing Labour MPs, activists and members. Is there anything they can do, or is this Government’s fate now out of their hands?