Tuesday, October 02, 2007

The rumbling guts of Labour election decision making 

So what ‘gut feelings’ are likely to influence Labours (or Browns) decision on an election date?
Well two possibilities are how they digest the lack of experience in actually fighting elections on the grounds and the memory of the clothes-peg vote in 2005

Both gut reactions suggest that for key Labour decision makers Labour a quick winter election is desirable as such.

One of the key differences between the Royal Navy and the French Navy in 18th Century wars was that British officers worked their way up from junior ranks, learning by experience. French officers were more likely to be trained ashore and appointed from above on criteria other than seamanship. The difference showed in choices for battle strategy and detailed combat performance.

Liberal Democrats have by necessity had to learn how to fight and win elections from the ground up and this experience still lives on at National level. However both Labour and Conservative national election decision makers are much more likely to have started at the grand planning level where elections are a matter of indoor rallies, billboards, policy stunts, paid-for delivery of literature and TV opportunities. In their guts Labour election planners may really not know what it means to have a winter election where you have to call on party worker to get soaked on the doorsteps, and they really may not give a damn. If they do think about it, perhaps they recon it will hit the LibDems hardest which is not a disadvantage in their eyes.

And there may be a more specific anti-LibDem element in their current calculations. In the 2005 election I happened to link onto an online discussion where agonised Labour supporters debated what to do. One faction famously said put a clothes-peg on your nose and Vote Labour. Then after the election Brown will succeed Blair and all will be well. Others argued that the situation with the Iraq war and various civil liberty issues was too serious and that Labour could not be supported at that election. A minority pointed out that the LibDem position was actually something deserving positive support.

My reading of the gut-rumbles after the 2005 poll is that anti-Blair Labour activists think there was indeed a considerable clothes-peg vote and that the LibDems did indeed succeed in picking up votes in unexpected places, snatching ‘natural Labour seats’ and ‘betraying’ others into Tory hands. Based on that gut calculation Labour now expects to turn out the clothes-peg vote, which feels vindicated, and regain the ‘waverers’ who ‘defected’ last time.

But they have to do this before people get a proper look at Brown and his long-term plans, while the illusions of the clothes-peggers are still unshattered.

There are broadly two election outcomes that would be a disaster for Brown. The terminal one would be to lose his majority even if the Tories did not get one in return. The second would be to see a substantial increase in the LibDem representation and thus an increase in effective and relevant Parliamentary opposition. A true nightmare would be the LibDems as Official Opposition – principled and relevant and with a breadth and depth of expertise the Tories can only dream of right now. That would really spell long term trouble for Brown and Labour.

Reading the current farts from labour guts I suspect Brown sees an election geared to maximising damage to the LibDems. He doesn’t really care what happens to the Tories provided they stay the official opposition and don’t increase their Parliamentary holding more than a dozen or so. A Tory opposition on the present lines he can handle easily.

For us it means ‘come three corners of the world in arms…’ and yes I now expect a Winter Poll.

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Another key difference was that the British did not guillotine many of their best Navy officers in a fit of revolutionary zeal.

The French then learned it's not easy to quickly replace a generation of talent and accrued knowledge.
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