In 1964, Harold Wilson described the record of the (outgoing) Conservative government as '13 wasted years'. If the present Parliament lasts its full term - as seems likely - the electorate will be asked to pass judgment on 13 years of Labour rule. Voters today seem to have the same view of Labour as Wilson had of the Tories all those years ago. Many who once wished Labour well are now wondering whether they can vote Labour at all, or whether they should stop voting tactically. This is an important decision: the Labour majorities in the last three elections have been much enlarged by people choosing to vote for the candidate thought most likely to defeat the Tory - a spontaneous alternative vote. Since the country's politicians have refused to reform the country's medieval system of voting, the electorate has reformed it for itself. But it is a reform without any statutory basis: people can choose to practise it or not. Labour thus faces a double threat. Not merely that people will no longer vote Labour, but that they will vote as they really want to - Lib Dem, for example - whatever the consequences. And they will do so because they no longer believe keeping the Tories out is the main object of politics. Labour's position, though not irrecoverable, is therefore serious, approaching desperate.
LRB 11 September 2008 | PDF Download