No room for complacency

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It has been noted that many Labourites are quite comfortable with our party’s return to opposition.

The thinking goes that after thirteen years in power it will be healthy for Labour to take some time out, have a ponder about its future direction and then come up with some stonking new policies.

Harriet Harman told an upbeat meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party this week that a return to government would not be far off.

I’ll admit that I partly share this sense of optimism. Labour obviously couldn’t remain in government forever and needed to refresh itself.

Cameron was at least denied a parliamentary majority. Many new Tory MPs obtained fewer than 2000 votes over the Labour candidates. Taking many of these seats back at the next election should not be an impossible task.

With the Lib Dems signed up to a coalition with the Tories, political logic suggests that as people become disenchanted with the new government they will turn to supporting the Labour as the principal party of opposition.

All seems hunky dory then. But I can’t help but feel that we Labourites are getting a little bit complacent about the ease of returning to power after a brief spell in opposition.

The last time that a party was limited to only a single term in office in the UK was back in the 1970s. The pattern since then (and indeed in previous years) had been for parties to enjoy extended periods of government – and unfortunately it’s usually been the Tories enjoying this most.

And look at the list of Labour leaders elected immediately after general election defeats: Arthur Henderson, George Lansbury, Hugh Gaitskell, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and John Smith. Notice how none of these fellas went on to occupy No 10. (Ok, John Smith would perhaps have been the exception to this trend had he not died)

Of course there are no fixed laws of politics which mean that we’re guaranteed a decade of Tory government. The fact that the Tories have had to establish the first peacetime coalition since the National Government of the 1930s demonstrates how unpredictable things are.

But I think claims that opposition will necessarily be easy and that Labour can be confident of returning to power within the next few years should be tempered. Some sober caution would not go amis.

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