Harriet Harman has given an interview to the BBC during which she intimated that Labour would basically vote through several of the most contentious bits of Osborne’s budget.
“We’ve had a serious defeat and we must listen to why.”
Harriet is both completely right and totally wrong at the same time. Yes, Labour has suffered a serious defeat and needs to understand why that is. Thus far, Labour seems to be taking the losses in May too lightly, so these are theoretically wise words from the interim leader. But the party also needs to understand that simply agreeing with your opponent is not a path to victory either.
I don’t have a real problem with Labour voting with the Tories on what Harman suggest they vote with the Tories on; the last parliament was marked to some extent by Labour simply voting things down for the hell of it (House of Lords reform springs to mind). But voting with your enemies should never, ever mean accepting their narrative – it should always be done as a way of advancing your own.
It’s like Labour and UKIP: you will never defeat the party of Farage by reinforcing their message on immigration. You have to advance your own, presumably social democrat solutions as to why wages in Britain continue to stagnate for a large number of people. Turning to their main rivals, talking about how and why Labour could handle the economy better than the Tories, if that’s what you think happens to be the case. When you accept your political adversary’s ideas as 100% correct, it must be with some tactical manoeuvre in mind or a repositioning that’s been thought through in full at stake. Simply agreeing with the other side because you have nothing else to say is actually even worse than disagreeing with them strictly to be a contrarian opposition. At least the latter buys you some time; the former makes things worse without some sort of long term aim of resetting the agenda, or at least splitting your opponents in mind.
So with all that said, what does Harriet’s Labour have in mind with this latest ploy? I have no idea and I suspect they don’t either. It feels a bit like the election immigration mug: a misguided attempt to win back portions of their former electorate by presenting themselves as watered down versions of their rivals. In an era where the Tories have their shtick down, the Lib Dems can afford to be opposition full strength again (why not?) and UKIP’s brand if not their seat number in the Commons went up in May, Labour can’t afford a long period of fannying about.