he result of the general election is not
in doubt. The only question is the size of the Labour majority
and that will in turn determine the authority of Blair and
his corresponding ability to push through more Blairite ‘reforms’.
The implication for the left is that they should vote against
Labour and hope to thus stop Blair. With this particular
narrative, many on the left seem to have suspended their
normally critical faculties.
It is not necessarily surprising that such a narrative has
gained ground. Blairite outriders hope that it will be a
self-fulfilling prophecy – when a decent-sized majority
is achieved, it will by then be a given that it represents
a personal mandate for Blair and that he will therefore derive
the authority from it to drive through whatever his next
set of plans are.
What is a bit more puzzling is why on earth anyone on the
thinking left would go along with it. There are two objective
reasons that are used to justify the thesis.
Firstly, it is argued that the rebellious MPs are mainly
in safe seats, while the 1997 intake are loyal Blairites,
so the lower the majority then the fewer Blairites and the
more rebels. A nice line, but it lacks the merit of being
true. The most hardcore rebels are mainly (but not entirely)
in safe seats but their numbers are too small to make a significant
impact on all but the narrowest of majorities.
But the far more significant category are the occasional
rebels, those who participated in some or all of the major
rebellions of this Parliament – foundation hospitals,
top-up fees and the war. These MPs are disproportionately
in marginal seats, mainly the very marginal seats that would
be the first to go – mainly because these seats were
largely ignored when the leadership were vetting key candidates
These MPs represent the centre of gravity in the Parliamentary
Labour Party – they will go so far in the name of unity
and electoral pragmatism but no further. Without these people,
the rebellions would be more limited to the hard left and
thus both politically less credible and numerically weaker.
Given the mathematics of the PLP there would be little more
chance of rebellions succeeding with a majority of eighty
than there would with a majority of a hundred and eighty,
assuming a uniform swing.
Furthermore, the hand of the Blairite MPs would be immeasurably
strengthened by the weakening of the centre ground and this
could have serious implications given the third of the vote
reserved for MPs in leadership elections. All of these facts
suggest that the Blair premiership – and succession – would
not be particularly threatened by a reduction in the majority.
But what if a large Labour majority is achieved? Would it
be an endorsement of Blair as TV advocates argue?
In fact such an outcome is likely to be despite, not because
of, the most Blairite elements of the manifesto – and
that should be the counter-narrative that the left seek to
implant now. A Labour victory will be down to the hard work
of good local MPs in those marginal seats and probably a
decision in the minds of voters that they would rather have
more investment in public services from Gordon Brown than
illusory tax cuts from Michael Howard.
The only reason that Blair should be able to derive any
personal authority from the size of the majority is if this
idea has already gained widespread currency and acceptance – which
is not a bad reason for Blairites to spin that line but is
hardly a reason for the left to help create this self-fulfilling
The basic assumptions of the argument are also somewhat
flawed, not least the idea that the Tories are dead in the
water. At the time I write the polls give Labour a lead of
two or three points, with the Tories benefiting from an increasingly
aggressive right-wing populist campaign.
The Blairites may over-estimate their strength in this regard,
and again the left seem to have gone along with their analysis.
A campaign to ‘keep the majority down’ could
have unexpected consequences for all concerned – and
it is worth remembering that in 2001 the polls over-stated
Labour’s lead by an average of 6.9% compared to votes
Either way, within a year of the election there will be
an event that really will determine Blair’s authority,
assuming Labour is re-elected. The referendum on the EU Constitution,
as with all referendums, will be a defining moment for a
Prime Minister who takes on leading the campaign themselves.
It is after the referendum that Blair will either be able
to push forward a whole new raft of policies, or be constrained – if
he can stay in power at all.
The ‘tactical voting’ argument also seems to
be based on the idea that a viable progressive alternative
exists, usually the Liberal Democrats. I view the rise of
both liberalism and Liberalism as one of the biggest threats
that socialism faces in Britain. It will suffice to say for
now that the Liberal Democrats are far from being an answer
for the left and that Blair would rather compromise with
the Peel Group than the Campaign Group.
All things considered, what passes for a ‘tactical
voting’ in this instance doesn’t strike me as
very clever tactics at all.
So, what do I advocate? Well, as a left-wing Labour candidate
standing against a right-wing Liberal Democrat I would quite
like progressive voters to vote for me, and for activists
who are unwilling to help out their Blairite MP to come and
give me a hand with some leafleting rather than stay in and
watch the telly.
But, perhaps I’m biased. And perhaps far more useful
would be to ensure that in the many marginal seats where
left-wing or soft-left Labour MPs are re-standing, there
is a concerted effort by activists to get them back into
Parliament – that really would be good tactics.
Nick Parrott is Labour PPC for Kingston