Saturday, 14 February 2015

The Lib-Dems vs Labour in the strategic ineptitude stakes


In this article I'm going to consider the appalling strategic ineptitude of the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party since 2010.

The Liberal Democrats

In 2010 the Liberal Democrats put on one of the greatest displays of strategic ineptitude in the history of British politics. They were presented with a a magnificent opportunity to revolutionise British politics but they completely bottled it by agreeing to betray several of their most fundamental demographics (students, social democrats, the anti-war vote, the anti-Tory vote, liberally minded people) and bend over backwards to serve Tory party interests for five long years, apparently in order that a select few of their MPs could pull in six figure ministerial salaries for a few years and enjoy being ferried around in ministerial limos.


Binding themselves into a five year long Tory led government has proven to be an unprecedented disaster for the party. Only the most blinkered of die-hard Lib-Dems would dare to claim otherwise. They've slumped from 23% of the vote in 2010 to just 5-7% (according to most pre-election polls); they've lost 10 out of their 11 MEPs; thousands of hard working Lib-Dem councilors have lost their seats all over the UK; and the party look like a pathetically spent force in Scotland as a consequence of the abject betrayals committed by the Lib-Dem leadership in Westminster.

There is something the Lib-Dems could have done differently instead of shafting the students (probably their fundamental demographic) with their U-turn on tuition fees; instead of shafting the whole country by voting through a massive wasteful top-down reorganisation of the NHS that wasn't even mentioned in either party manifesto, nor the Coalition Agreement; instead of utterly betraying all of the social liberals in the party by supporting grotesquely illiberal legislation like secret courts, the ban on khat, DRIP and the gagging law; instead of betraying all of the social democrats who had fled from the Thatcherite New Labour Party to a Lib-Dem party that were apparently only pretending to wear the clothes of social democracy that the Labour Party had so carelessly thrown away.

The thing that the Liberal Democrats could (and should) have done differently was to form a confidence and supply agreement with the Tories, whereby they would support certain bits of Tory legislation, but reserve the right to oppose others. Had they taken this approach the Westminster based MPs would have missed out on the short-term gratification of their ministerial cars and six figure salaries, but the party could have won enormous plaudits every single time they shot down an unpopular piece of Tory legislation (the forests sell-off, the hugely unpopular NHS reforms, secret courts, the Royal Mail sell-off, Bedroom Tax ...) and the longer it went on for, the worse the position would have become for the Tories.


Had the Lib-Dems chosen confidence and supply rather than a binding agreement to support every vile piece of Tory legislation for five long years, the Tories would have suffered for it, not the Lib-Dems. The way the Lib-Dems chose to play it was a short-term bonanza for a select few of their MPs, but it was strategically stupid because it completely annihilated the reputation of the party as a consequence.

The Labour Party

As shocking as the Lib-Dems display of strategic ineptitude was, the Labour Party seem intent on rivaling the Liberal Democrats for sheer strategic incompetence.

One of the early indicators of Labour's strategic ineptitude was their almost inexplicable decision to allow Iain Duncan Smith to write himself a get-out-of-jail-free piece of retrospective legislation. When they should have been ruthlessly attacking Ian Duncan Smith for his incompetence Labour allowed him to rewrite the unlawful and completely unintelligible rules he'd imposed on thousands of benefits claimants without even having sought parliamentary approval to introduce them first. Instead of allowing Iain Duncan Smith to retroactively rewrite his botched and unlawful legislation by letting him table it as "emergency legislation" and whipping all Labour MPs into abstaining on all of the votes so he could ram it through the House of Commons in a single day, they could have dragged him and the Tory party through hot coals for months over the issue.

Another stunning display of strategic ineptitude was their stance in the Scottish independence debate (I wrote a whole article at the time so I wont go into excessive detail here). Had Labour distanced themselves from the Tories and argued that Cameron was gambling with the entire future of the UK because he didn't want to give the Scottish people their preferred option of Devolution Max, there's absolutely no way the Tories could have pulled off their last minute "vow" of new powers for Scotland without admitting that Labour had been right all along.

The result of Labour sharing an identical political platform to the Tories during the referendum debate is that they have now toxified themselves as a political brand in Scotland. The SNP are going to inflict an electoral bloodbath on Scottish Labour in May, and Labour only have themselves to blame for throwing away perhaps their most important traditional heartland.

Even after the Scottish debacle the Labour Party seem intent on pursuing ever more inept political strategies. In January 2015 George Osborne put a truly ludicrous motion before parliament seeking endorsement of his failed austerity agenda, and while the Labour MPs traipsed through the lobbies to actively endorse ideological "Osbornomics", only five Labour MPs defied the party whip and opposed it (Dianne Abbott, Katie Clark, Roger Godsiff, Austin Mitchell & Dennis Skinner).

Labour should have been pointing out that:

  • George Osborne promised to eliminate the deficit by 2015, but he hasn't even halved it.
  • George Osborne has borrowed quarter of a trillion pounds more than he claimed he was going to back in 2010.
  • George Osborne staked his reputation on preserving the UK's AAA Credit Rating, but he lost them.

  • George Osborne has overseen the longest sustained decline the wages of UK workers since records began.

  • George Osborne is always talking about "the recovery" but the UK economy is still significantly smaller than it was in 2007 when measured in Per Capita GDP (the size of the economy divided by the population of the country).
  • George Osborne borrowed more in his first 3 years than the previous Labour government did in 13.

  • George Osborne has created more debt in 4 years than every single Labour government in history combined (both when measured in pounds or as a percentage of GDP).
But instead of lambasting him for his incompetence and all of his failed promises, they actually queued up to pass a motion of confidence in his catastrophically failing austerity agenda!

A warning from Greece

In January 2015 the left-wing anti-austerity party Syriza won the Greek legislative election. The result for the traditional social democratic party in Greece (PASOK) was catastrophic. From being the party of government in Greece for 22 out of 30 years between 1981 and 2011, and never receiving less than 38% of the vote, PASOK declined to just 4.7% of the vote in 2015, relegating them to seventh place overall.

What has happened to PASOK in Greece; what is happening to PSOE in Spain now; and what is due to happen to Labour in Scotland come May are stark warnings of the electoral annihilation that can be inflicted on left-wing parties when they forget that they're left-wing parties in order to promote establishment interests and push IMF approved austerity on the public they're supposed to be serving.

Conclusion

The electoral suicide committed by the Liberal Democrats when they chose a binding coalition with the Tories instead of a confidence and supply agreement must go down as one of the greatest displays of strategic ineptitude in recent political history. However the Labour Party have clearly been trying to rival the Liberal Democrats in the strategic ineptitude stakes.

The main advantage Labour have is that they started with far more loyal tribalist supporters than the Lib-Dems, so they've been able to get away with their ineptitude without suffering such a catastrophic exodus of support. Another important factor is that the Lib Dems committed electoral suicide first, leaving Labour as the only realistic alternative to the Tories outside of Scotland (SNP), Northern Ireland (various Northern Irish parties) parts of Wales (Plaid Cymru), meaning that they can be almost as incompetent as they like and be confident of soaking up most of the anti-Tory vote in England.

The effects of Lib-Dem ineptitude are clearly the more devastating from a party perspective (toxifying their political reputation; losing some 70% of their support; slumping behind UKIP and the Greens in the polls and in terms of membership too), but the scale of the ineptitude from Labour is arguably worse, given that they've already seen the Lib-Dems commit electoral suicide right in front of their eyes, but they've decided to make several of the same idiotic strategic errors (siding with the Tories in Scotland, willfully enabling Iain Duncan Smith's mistreatment of the most vulnerable people in society, actively endorsing George Osborne's catastrophically failing ideological austerity agenda) when they should have been attacking the Tories for their recklessness, malice and incompetence.

One of the most shocking things of all is that despite these brazen displays of appalling strategic ineptitude from both of these parties, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that these two parties could form a coalition government together due to the grotesquely disproportionate voting system we endure in the UK.

If the almost unbelievable ineptitude these parties have displayed in managing their own party affairs is anything to go by, a government run by these two parties promises to be an absolute shambles doesn't it?

UPDATE: The results of the 2015 General Election are in and both parties performed with spectacular ineptitude. Labour lost all but one of their seats in Scotland and the Lib-Dems were catastrophically wiped out as a political force. I'll admit that I was wrong to imagine that a coalition of two such incompetent parties was ever even a possibility.

       
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