The spirit as weak as the flesh in Brighton
This theme, that the party is sleepwalking to a defeat next year which could finish it as an electoral force, has become so familiar that it's almost beginning to border on the cliche, and it's one which this blog has not exactly challenged. It is one however that the opinion polls are hardly contradicting, the latest showing Labour equal pegging with the Liberal Democrats on a shockingly low 23%. It's still worth remembering that Labour took 27% of the vote in 1983, the year incidentally in which both Blair and Brown were elected to parliament. The "longest suicide note in history", although one which deserves reappraisal, delivered a higher percentage of support than Labour would currently receive. Only those most in loathe with the last 12 years would suggest that's all that the party currently deserves.
No one seriously expects that Labour will be fighting with the Liberal Democrats for third largest party status in 12 months time. The threat is however that the party could be reduced to its long established bases of support, but even these, on an extremely pessimistic reading of the runes, seem to be in trouble. Wales, the historic bedrock of Labour support, seems to be within the grasp of the Conservatives. According to a Financial Times poll last week, the Tories have a 4 point lead in the north, while in Scotland the party is instead struggling with a Scottish National Party that despite the al-Megrahi backlash only seems to be growing stronger. This is coupled with as Dave Osler has identified, the party's loss of a generation. Amazing and frightening as it seems, those children and only just teenagers who were marching against the Iraq war alongside those of us who had only just gained the right to vote in 2003 will next year themselves be taking part in their first general election, and if they fight off the apathy, it seems doubtful they'll be putting an x in the box alongside the Labour candidate, nor will they in the years to come. Just as we promised ourselves we would never vote for the Tories, so they will have promised never to vote Labour. This poses a challenge which no one in either the Conservatives or Labour has even began to consider, let alone broach.
Looking at the hall in Brighton, many of the seats empty, even during Alistair Darling's speech (although that perhaps might be half the reason), the clapping lukewarm at best, it's hard not to infer that many don't have the stomach to even turn up, like at a Christmas party for a company that's shutting down in the new year. Then again, when the best that Darling could pull out of his hat was a "Fiscal Responsibility Act", designed to put in legal terms how the government intends to reduce the deficit, you do wonder whether involuntary euthanasia wouldn't be kinder for all involved. It really does sum New Labour up: its mania for legislation where none is necessary, that it is so shorn of trust that it has to do so to make sure that the public believes what it says while also no doubt being an attempt to tie the Tories' hands should they want to put certain areas of spending off limits.
Just when you think that things can't get any more absurd, up pops the former Prince of Darkness, who could now more appropriately be known as the Grand Wizard of Sunlight. Mandelson does not have a natural charisma, but what he does have, along with the self-regard, is the ability to reassure, which is what his role was today. In a way, his speech was about precisely nothing, even though he did announce an extension to the car scrappage scheme, but rather about enthusing those resigned with the unannounced theme of the conference, fighting back. Mandelson might have made the most ultimate of comebacks, but even his bounce back ability is hardly likely to infect the party as a whole. He has though made Brown's task tomorrow even more difficult. Brown's speech of 2003, his "Real Labour" opus, is now little more than the tiniest of memories. To go by the leaks, that Brown intends to go on the attack on crime and promises that most piss-weak of political battles, a live debate or debates with Cameron prior to the election, it seems that even Brown and his speech writers have given up the ghost. No longer is even the spirit willing, seeming to be just as weak as the flesh.