'Smeargate' - or however else you would like to describe the political disaster of the past days - is a Mackeson moment for the Labour party: it looks bad, it 'tastes' bad and, by golly, it will do us a good deal of harm. The sad truth is that (with a few recent and notable exceptions) the government has not been making it easy for the electorate to vote Labour with any enthusiasm. On the doorstep the divide between the concerns of core Labour voters and those of a PR fixated cabinet have never seemed wider.In fairness though, the history of Labour Governments was ever thus. Since the 1920s the story goes something like this: Labour supporters are near euphoric when victory is achieved there is then a period of hard slog as the party faces up to the harsh responsibilities of being in government. The party then accuses the leadership of betrayal and the leadership accuses the party of ingratitude. Supporters then become disillusioned which leads to defeat at the polls. We then experience a long period of Tory Government before the next outbreak of euphoria and so on and so forth. Historically Labour has been far better at defeating itself than the Tories have ever been and the past year has reinforced the point, what with the 10p tax fiasco, dodgy expense claims and now McBride.
After an unprecedented twelve straight years in power many of Labour’s own members want it to be both passionately principled and sensibly pragmatic; to be a party that proudly honours its past whilst not neglecting to shape both its and the nation’s future; to champion the state whilst being part of the market; to tackle poverty but also support aspiration.Gordon Brown stood for the leadership of the Labour party on a platform that argued that the renewal that was undertaken in order to gain power needed to be repeated if Labour was to keep power. In the mid 1990s Labour had successfully occupied the centre ground, it had modernised, was reaching out beyond its own activists Labour and turning the Tories into a replica of what it itself used to be – a party with a narrow base, a party obsessed about the wrong things and a party seen as old fashioned and out of touch.
Can Labour recover? Possibly - I am less confident today that I was pre the McBride nonsense. I believe that the best prospects of future success for Labour lie not in the puerile tactics of the spin doctor, politics has to be about more that the desire to wrong foot your opponent. Labour must grasp the opportunity that the 'smeargate' nonsense has presented. Brown can call for an election that is about ideas and ideals, policies and principles. The prospects for future success for Labour lies not in defending the status quo of what is still a highly unequal Britain, rather it is in working with the British people to help rid our nation of some ugly realities such as child poverty and the still endemic inequalities in both health and education. It is not too late to recover and win but it very soon will be.