Towards the end of last year Labour activists seems significantly buoyed by a series of polls that showed them only nine or ten points behind the Conservatives in polls. Frankly I was bemused that it caused such delight amongst Labour activists. Surely a nine point deficit is not a cause for celebration, after all, their margin of victory in 2005 was significantly less, just 3%. In 2001 when they had a 247 seat majority their margin of victory was 9%. In moral terms, if not electoral, a 9% deficit is not a cause for celebration. But as I’ve touched on before, the currently distribution of seats means that, on a uniform swing, the Conservatives need to win by more than 8% to be able to form a government.
While visiting family over Christmas I watched my team – Grimsby Town – lose and I realised why Labour are so happy with such a poor result. It’s a symptom of their abject lack of ambition for themselves and the country.
If you are a fan of a struggling football team (Grimsby have spent all season in the relegation zone, and only retained league status last season because other teams had hefty points deductions for going into administration) you will know the mentality. You go along to the game expecting defeat, but heartily support even the most minor sign of positive play on the pitch.
At Blundell Park we had about 80 minutes of misery before the last ten minutes when the players finally gave us something to cheer about – and cheer them on we did. We were hoping for a miracle that never came. But hope is what it was all about.
And such is the lot of the Labour supporter. They know they have lost the arguments and Brown’s administration has been nothing short of a disaster. But they support the Labour team, so they have to cheer when something gives them hope. They know the electoral maths are stacked against the Conservatives, so now it isn’t really about winning; it’s about clinging on.
Just as a Grimsby fan dreams of clinging onto league status rather than seeing a cup-winning hat-trick at Wembley, Labour are dreaming of somehow clinging onto power at the election. And how that happens is unimportant. If they have to rely on the electoral system, so be it. If they have to rely on tired old cliches, so be it. If they have to rely on some bizarre form of class envy, that’s all right too.
And it might just work for them. They have lowered expectations so much that, combined with the expenses scandals, people probably don’t expect to get that much from a government. It’s almost as if their campaign slogan is “Brown: he may be a comical incompetent, but he’s your comical incompetent. Vote Labour.”
To a degree the Conservatives have helped by talking about the problems Brown has created that the next government will have to fix. Sensible enough, they will face some tough decisions if they win power and it’s right to prepare the electorate for that. But it’s hard to motivate people to vote for you unless you are offering something positive, if it’s going to be bad whoever gets in you might as well stick with what you’ve got.
It is the nature of political parties to seek power. That is their raison d’être. However, it becomes a real problem when that is all they are doing – it would be a disaster for the country if Brown somehow manages to do just that.