During the 2010-2015 parliament, Ed Miliband’s Labour was in the slightly uncomfortable position of wishing the Coalition’s cuts bit hard enough to get people to reconsider their vote last time around; in other words, they had to hope that the people who usually support them were in line to suffer enough to repent. But political parties always find themselves experiencing a bit of this at some point when they aren’t in government – if the government does a great job, why hand them a chance? What’s odd about the current Labour Party’s situation is that they now desperately need May to succeed. And not just succeed a little, but to absolutely flourish under difficult circumstances. They have now unwittingly tied themselves to her fortunes.
The Committee Stage of the Article 50 Bill is proceeding as expected: the government is whipping all of the amendments down effectively, with Labour sticking to the line that they will vote the Bill through at Third Reading even if the Tories stick in a clause that involves Labour HQ being incinerated by a high powered laser weapon. This means Theresa May will charge into Article 50 negotiations with Labour effectively having signed off anything that comes from them. If May gets an amazing deal and Britain does immediately well with little disruption, Labour are at least not doomed by that in particular. However, if the negotiations go poorly and we end up falling back on the WTO stuff, any blow back from that will very likely fall on poorer voters, and Labour will be blamed for having allowed it to happen. In other words, in a best case scenario, Labour are no worse off; in a worst case scenario, it could be the end of the Labour Party for the rest of time.
How they got here I won’t recount – I’ve traced each step with an article on this very website, like a traveller in a foreboding climate leaving small stones in my wake in order to one day retrace my steps – but where Labour has now ended up is ghastly beyond political description. They have to pray that a Tory prime minister does really well, the result of which will be a huge Conservative majority at the next election, but where at least Labour can hang on enough to make recovery at some point in the future a technical possibility. May’s “failure” would hurt the Tories a little, but only a little: Labour would be destroyed for having waved through Article 50, so that would temper any downside to the Conservative Party anyhow. The other parties, such as the Lib Dems, even if a revival were on the cards as a result, would take several election cycles to even begin to worry the Tories.
The party of government is an enviable position, despite having to navigate a devilish set of negotiations that will decide the country’s future. The main opposition has oddly died while still holding over 200 seats, giving the prime minister an unprecedented amount of elbow room. We can all only hope that she uses it wisely – no one hoping so more than those who run the Labour Party.