The Labour Party. Remember them?

by Stephen Tall on March 3, 2012

There’s an excellent must-read post on the New Statesman site by Rafael Behr highlighting how Coalition politics is not only eclipsing the Labour party from the media spotlight, but also paralysing its leadership from engaging with internal debate.

First, he notes how both the Lib Dems and Tories are being given the freedom to differentiate their party’s policies from the Coalition’s programme:

The Conservative party does not like the 50p tax rate. That much is clear. It is just as clear that government policy is, for the time being, to retain the rate. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats support a “Mansion Tax”, although it is not government policy to introduce one. Both parties are in office, each accuses the other of hogging the agenda, neither gets its way all of the time. That is how coalition works. It is all quite obvious really.

He’s right. It’s all quite obvious (even if the media has often struggled with the concept).

Yet the Lib Dem / Conservative Coalition is exerting quite the opposite effect on Labour:

The Labour benches generally feel frozen with caution. The two Eds, Miliband and Balls, advance the party line in increments and then invite the party to toe it without a fraction of deviation. As a result, anything anyone in Labour says that might be decoded as new or interesting causes a sensation, which only reinforces the leadership’s fear of saying anything – or allowing underlings to say anything – egregious*.

Ironically, therefore, it’s the governing parties which feel free to explore new ideas through the creative tension of Coalition. In contrast, HM’s Official Opposition has become scared of its own shadow.

* I don’t actually think Rafael means ‘egregious’, a thing which is extraordinarily bad. I assume he meant ‘adventurous’ or similar.

* Stephen Tall is Co-Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice, and also writes at his own site, The Collected Stephen Tall.