Monday, 11 May 2015

What We Have And Why

How the Unions handed the Tories power

In 2010, when the dust from the election settled, the Tories were fewer than 20 seats away from taking power. Labour, on the other hand, were around 70 seats away from the same goal - four times as far. 326 is the magic number in the Commons, and the Tories were on 307 while Labour were on 258.

At this point, the Trades Unions and Labour made a conscious decision that not only would they stay in opposition for the 2010-2015 parliament, but that they wanted to throw the next election - or even the next couple of elections.

To have the next government be Labour rather than Tory, whatever they did during the 2010 parliament had to shift power toward Labour four times as fast as it shifted it toward the Tories.  Gain 20 seats for each of Red and Blue and the Tories would be in power with a slender majority. Gain no more than 17 for the Tories but 68 for Labour and you could, just, overtake them and get the keys to Number 10.

Yet they aimed their campaigns at demonising and demolishing the Liberals, and ousting Liberal MPs from Parliament.  The trouble with this strategy being that of the 57 Liberal MPs around four out of five held seats that would otherwise go Tory.  For each seat where the Liberals were punished for the coalition by losing to their local challenger, the Tories were moved toward power four times as fast as were Labour: the very opposite of what was needed to give Labour a chance at government.

Events exacerbated this with the rise of UKIP and the SNP taking ground from behind Labour while on their intended battlefront they were actively handing seats to the Tories, but that plot twist was yet to come.

This is not to say I don't understand why Labour and their wealthy owners in Unite, Unison et al did it.  The coalition gave them three possible sets of targets to aim at.  They could aim their fire at both Liberal and Conservative groups; or at either one.

Aiming at the Tories was their default position, but might allow the Liberals to underline the measures they were blocking thanks to the hung parliament. Labour, the Liberals and the Coalition all agreed on cuts of around £80bn; pointing out that the Tories on their own wanted to slash £96bn instead would highlight the positive impact voting Liberal had.

Aiming at the coalition as a whole would open Labour up to charges of hypocrisy, as most of the things the coalition was doing that were unpopular were Labour's own ideas. The extension of the Bedroom Tax, hiking up Tuition Fees, ending EMA, giving ATOS huge power over the lives of disabled people, curbing public spending by £80bn... these were all in the existing Labour plan - so whilst criticising them would be populist, it would also ring hollow if the media paid attention.  Where the coalition differed from the Labour plan - levying higher taxes on the best paid, taking the poorest paid out of paying income tax - attacking that was not a message that would play well to Labour's core vote.  Worse yet, the rate of privatisation of the NHS had fallen under the Coalition compared to what it had been under Gordon Brown.

So there was the third option, to blame the coalition on the Liberals and focus fire on them. A really emotionally tempting opportunity - after years of the Liberals attacking Labour from the left, pretend that everything the Coalition did was the will of the Liberals rather than the result of compromising between Liberal and Tory positions, five parts Tory to every one part Liberal. It gave a fine sense of revenge for the way the Liberals had taken Labour apart over the deaths of hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq, creating massive youth unemployment since the early 00s, flogging off the NHS, blocking LGBT rights measures and so forth.

But the quid pro quo for that sense of vengeful satisfaction was consciously choosing to give the Tories absolute power. The gains Labour made would be outstripped four-to-one and the sixty seat advantage the Tories had would only increase.  Of course, the SNP then made the maths even worse, stripping out a slew of seats Labour had taken for granted as safely their own.

So why do we have a Tory government?  Five years ago the trades unions decided to give us one, and Labour collaborated in delivering it.

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