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Wednesday, March 03, 2004
The end of the line for Blairism?

Paul Richards has a piece in Progress, the magazine for 'Labour Progressives' (don't laugh - the left really do think conservatives oppose progress), thinking ahead to after the next General Election. On almost any substantial swing from Labour to the Conservatives, the situation looks bad for those who broadly go along with the Blairite project and want the Labour Party to do the same.

[W]hat does such a swing [of 5%] do to the loyalist/rebel balance of forces inside the PLP? Twenty-one of the 50-odd losers would be MPs who are currently on the 'payroll vote': ministers, whips, or PPSs. These are solid Blair loyalists. A further eight are loyalist backbenchers, who backed the government on the crucial higher education vote. So about 30 Blair loyalists would be polishing up their CVs on a five percent swing. There are only four members of the Socialist Campaign Group - the so-called 'hard left' (hardcore serial rebels) who would be joining them: Philip Sawford, John Cryer, Robert Marshall-Andrews and Ann Cryer. Inside the PLP, the swing is towards those willing to vote against the government and away from those who support it.

And what about a massive ten percent swing from Labour to Conservative (bear in mind Thatcher's victory in 1979 was based on a 5.2 percent swing, and Labour's in 1997 was based a 10.2 percent swing.)? The government would be in serious trouble. A ten percent swing wipes out about 130 Labour MPs, and with it Labour's overall majority. With Labour on roughly 283 and the Tories on roughly 296, Labour would need the support of the Liberal Democrats to form a minority administration. This would be Blair's killing fields. Just two further members of the Socialist Campaign Group would be out: Ian Gibson and Mike Wood. But 28 Labour ministers and PPSs would be history, plus a large swathe of habitually loyal backbenchers, most of whom owe their seats to the modernisation of the Labour party. This scenario would see a PLP which resembles much more closely, in terms of politics, the class of 1983.

It is worth remembering how much the landslide of 1997 introduced a class of MP to the Commons who in normal circumstances would never have got there. In Servants of the People, Andrew Rawnsley records Blair walking into Parliament in May 1997, seeing some of the new Labour MPs gathering in the lobby and exclaiming "Doesn't he look like the guy who did Gordon's photocopying?!" to which he received the answer that the MP was the man who did Gordon Brown's photocopying. Above all, 1997 saw the election of many fiercely loyal 'Blair babes' who became their party's candidates only because superior male candidates were banned from competing. Independent-mindedness is not the first thing that comes to mind when one considers these sorts of member. The 2001 Election preserved this state of affairs, and has probably made Labour's first two terms much easier.

So it should be no surprise that these landslide loyalists also look the surest to fall if Labour cannot secure a third consecutive landslide in 2005 or 2006. I have written before that Blair has little hope of getting forward any serious programme of reform either side of the next election. If Paul Richards' mathematics is correct, I now feel still more confident in that judgement.

UPDATE: British Spin links to the same column, and his commenters give their thoughts.

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