Are the prospects of the Labour Party to ever rule again now dead?
In Spike, Mick Hume says the election destroyed Labour! Hyperbole? Yes, for it still is the second largest party in the House of Commons. But can it ever win power again? The loss of Scotland makes this question way more pertinent than at any time in the Labour Party’s history. It now looks as if Labour has locked itself out of Scotland and if that is the case then it truly might mean that Labour never wins a UK election again.
It is the way that Labour got thrown out of Scotland that makes a comeback difficult. But in any case, as so many others have said, Scotland was encouraged by Labour in the past to go in for an unrealistic amount of welfare, as Greece did in milking Germany but it was to a much lesser extent milking England by the Barnet formula, that Joel Barnet himself has repudiated, but the SNP under a clear pretence of independence, held the EU gave it Germany as a much better cow to milk if ever it got free of England. But the Greeks, who, despite the wonderful Scottish Enlightenment, courted a fondness in Germany with a far greater cultural heritage of 2500 years back, nevertheless Greece queered the pitch with the Germans not only for themselves but for the Scotch too, in the future, for they ensured the Germans were bitten hard enough to make them more than merely twice shy. But the SNP tend to overlook that.
Walter Bagehot in The English Constitution (1867) held that the largely tacit, or unwritten, constitution had its ornamental and functional parts. There are two sorts of politics, ideological and practical. The major parties are largely concerned to be practical, but ideology itself has some practical or functional parts. If we go back to the UK of the 1960s and 1970s, the two major parties had their ideologues as well as their parties, the Labour Party had Tony Benn as an ideologue as well as a practical Minister for Technology where and when he took advice from the civil servants of the time, that had little bearing on his ideological aspect, though it would need to be roughly compatible with it, if both were to flourish.
Dr Johnson set out to gauge the difference between the Whigs and the Tories in the eighteenth century whilst Sir Robert Walpole was, what historians today agree was the first Prime Minister, up to 1742. When others took over, Dr Johnson was rather surprised that they adopted many of the same positions, apart from opposition to war, as Walpole had taken. There was then, as since, a practical continuity between supposedly distinct ideological administrations that tended to share the same experts in the civil service that may not have been somewhat immune to fashion or to ideology as they were supposed to be, but whom certainly saw themselves as mainly practical or functional. Ideology or fashion was, for the most part, if ever quite completely, ornamental rather than functional.
So we might see that quite a bit of this ideological clash that usually takes place between the two major parties, if not all of it, is ornamental rather than functional. However, it can become rather unrealistically tribal with some politicians and it has tended to do so with the Labourites a bit more than with the Tories. In Scotland it emerged that the Labourites demonised the Tories quite successfully, especially after the rise of Mrs Thatcher, whom many in Scotland detested. They successfully ran the Tories out of Scotland by such demonization. But when Blair, later, adopted many of the Tories policies, as so many parties do in the UK’s two party system, this allowed the SNP to say that the Labourites were quasi-Tories, so they were as bad as they themselves had earlier said that the Tories were. This allowed them to see off the Labourites on their own anti-Tory demonization culture. But it is not going to be an easy culture for future Labourites to counter, as the SNP have no need to adopt any earlier policy changes from the Tories. So it looks like Labour have lost Scotland and that some new opposition might rise there against the SNP rather than ever again either Labour or the Tories. Will Scottish Labour do it? It failed to do so this time, and it might never do it. It does not look easy. It is not impossible but nor is it an ordinary setback.
The Economist holds that the Labourites have a threefold task against the SNP in Scotland, the UKIP in the north of England and the Tories in the south [Friday, 15 May 2015 (p30)] but though the three clash the real problem is in Scotland with SNP. Labour has never won without Scotland before and maybe they cannot do it.