Bringing Tony Blair into any political discussion these days is asking for trouble, but he does really belong in this one: as the guy who managed to get the Labour Party three parliamentary majorities in a row, a feat extremely likely to never be repeated, his achievement is instructive. How does Labour get back into power? It is a question that is strangely not seriously asked by anyone these days within the party in question (it was barely touched upon by anyone at Labour conference this year, as a for instance); it’s now something that has been left to theorists such as myself to ponder over, strangely enough.
In explaining the major difference as he saw it between Blair and Brown, Andrew Rawnsley said in his brilliant book, “The End of the Party”, that Blair understood why people who voted Tory did so, whereas Brown found the idea completely unfathomable. When you compare the electability of Blair and Brown, I think it’s worth noting that those in control of the Labour Party at the moment, in particular the leader and shadow chancellor, understand why anyone would ever vote Tory far less than Gordon Brown ever could, and more to the point, are quite happy with that. In order to convince someone with a slightly different viewpoint than yours that you are right, you need to be able to empathise with their position, at least a tiny bit. In other words, you have to understand the things that led them to believe in the things that they do and then unwind them back. If you don’t understand any of the stages of this, you have no chance of succeeding.
This is the main problem with the Corbyn led Labour Party that so many on the Left fail to understand: it’s not that the Labour Party needs to even have more centrist policies necessarily (although as a centrist, that would make them more appealing to me). It’s that whatever policies they adopt, the mindset of swing voters, i.e. those who have voted Labour in the past but voted Tory last time, but could therefore obviously be swayed back, needs to be taken into account in terms of the way things are pitched at the electorate. The Left complains about the “right-wing media” all the time, how they attack any candidate who espouses any views that aren’t kosher with them. But it’s not like that can come as a surprise anyone. In other words, it is a problem that is a very known quantity, so you must therefore have a strategy for dealing with it. Just saying “sod them” isn’t going to work.
If there were no Lib Dems, I would be your classic swing voter, going for whichever party seemed to me to promise a more liberal Britain (and for what it’s worth, they are always the people who seem to win anyhow, by the way, at least between the two major parties). Locally, I can even imagine helping the ground campaign of a liberal Tory trying to help defeat some authoritarian socialist Labour candidate – or helping whomever was running for Labour against Chris Grayling or Philip Davies as much as I had the time and strength for. So as someone who can actually imagine voting Tory or Labour if they were the only choices, let me say this in closing: the Conservative Party will be in power until someone capable of beating them formulates a narrative more compelling. Which actually shouldn’t be that difficult when you think about it: the current Tory one, which goes something like, “I know you think we’re bastards but vote for us because everyone else is marginal or mad”, is hardly awe inspiring.