James Graham on the dangers of Labour’s oppositionalism

by Stephen Tall on August 19, 2010

James Graham, Lib Dem blogger and frequent contributor to the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, has a must-read piece today, titled ‘Not dead but…’.

James co-founded the Lib Dems’ Social Liberal Forum, and has in the past advocated closer relations between the party and Labour as a progressive force to take on the Conservatives, so he is by no means a natural cheerleader for the Lib/Con Coalition, as his blog-post makes clear.

It’s his take on Labour’s misfiring oppositional tactics, though, which I think are well worth highlighting here:

My fears that Labour would end up getting trapped into a mindset of “what’s bad for the coalition is good for us” have proven to be well founded, and it is an infection which has spread across the board, even among some relatively sensible types. A perfect example is AV. Leaving aside the rather tedious row about boundary changes (which, aside from some of the legitimate social justice issues at stake, amounts to two parties with a rather inflated sense of entitlement arguing about which party should be given the greatest unfair advantage), the idea that losing the AV referendum will damage the coalition is quite mistaken. It will certainly damage the Liberal Democrats, but we’ll have nowhere to go. Our only recourse will be batten down the hatches, refocus on Lords reform and a handful of other reforms, and hope for the best. It will be the Tory right that will hold all the cards, not Labour. The idea that suddenly we’ll decide to pull out of the coalition and meet our doom in an early general election is pure fantasy.

By contrast, what better way to undermine the Clegg-Cameron love in than for Labour to champion AV, and win? The Tory right will be damaged, Labour will come out smelling of roses and the Lib Dems’ influence within the coalition will increase. For many Tories, that will be simply unscionable. An unruly Tory backbench will make Lib-Lab cooperation in Parliament far easier. This is the prize Labour have within their grasp; yet they are so obsessed with ‘betrayal’ they simply can’t see it. I can only look on in despair.

It’s an article which should give thoughtful Labour members, who believe in pluralism and progressive politics – and I’d still like to believe they are in the majority – some pause for thought.