On New Year’s Day, the Guardian printed an article authored by Ed Balls. It’s quite the read. The essential argument that Balls wants us to take away from it seems to be that Labour represents the centre ground, while George Osborne and the Tories represent an extreme.
Now, many other people have already written about how this is a remarkable shift, for Labour to be vocally trying to recapture the centre ground after spending a lot of the parliament attempting to portray themselves as the radical alternative, so I won’t bore you with all that. Except to remind you of when Ed Miliband, in 2010, while addressing a crowd of cuts marchers in Hyde Park, said that those people he was speaking to were comparable to the Suffragettes. As far as leftist positioning goes, that’s like Syriza with a double shot of Marxist-Leninism and Che Guevara cheering in the background. It’s quite a journey from that to “We’re the centre ground option”.
What I’m interested in is what it says about the way Labour views the up-coming general election and also what it reveals about possibilities for Labour post-May 7th. Because I think the Balls article demonstrates two things principally: first off, how little belief there is at the heart of the Labour Party that they are going to win in May. Take Balls assertion that Osborne came out of the autumn statement badly and that it has given Labour the upper hand. Someone as intelligent and experienced as Ed Balls knows this is complete crap; the fact that he would allow it to be said in his own name suggests he’s past caring. Yeah, just put it out like that, whatever. The Guardian readers will lap it up, if no one else.
Secondly, how it foreshadows what may be coming Labour’s way once the general election is over and done. Perhaps the saddest thing about the last six months from a Labour perspective is that had the Red Team stuck to its left-wing guns and gone into the election full throttle on this ticket, austerity denying to their last breath, at least when they got annihilated it would be clear where the blame lay. This was the silver lining in the 1983 election for Labour; at least it showed how flawed Foot’s plan for getting his party back into power truly was. This paved the way for the Kinnock-Smith-Blair periods to follow, all of which led to Labour winning three straight elections.
This time round, you can hear the fallout coming already. The Left will claim that the last second attempt to head a little rightwards in order to try and claw back some of Middle England cost them victory. It opened the door to the Greens, they will say, and made it easier for ex-Lib Dem voters to stick with what they knew. The Right will say that Ed Miliband cost them the election, with his inability to connect with voters and with his early plan to stake victory on a rejection of New Labour paired with an election sooner rather than later when the Coalition exploded. Both will be partly right and partly wrong, which is the worst position to be in. Both sides will have a legitimate story to tell; a civil war of epic proportions seems likely. And this is before we get onto the unions and what they do after the election.
It’s all there in Balls’ Guardian article: the shadow chancellor, a committed and loyal Brownite, claiming that Labour not only must move rightwards towards the centre in order to win, but that this transition has long since occurred. The way it all reads like a pale imitation of something from the New Labour era, an era the party had supposedly ditched for good. So, Labour autumn conference, Brighton, next September: will it be Chuka v a dog-eared copy of “The Communist Manifesto” for the Labour leadership? I, for one, cannot wait.