I found last nights defeat of the government oddly depressing.
I’m not sure why, exactly.
I mean, as a political manoeuvre, it worked precisely as any Labour leader would wish. If I’d been Labour leader, I’d have done exactly what Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander did.
The government was defeated, the tensions between the Liberal democrats and Tories increased, the Tory right were able to inflict a humiliating defeat on the government, which will force the government into an ever-more unsustainable political position as it alternately tries to soothe the backbenches and appeal to the great moderate centre of British politics.It might even lead to the dislodging of David Cameron.
It’s hard to pass up such a chance, especially when the only downside is a bit of hypocritical eye-rolling from people perpetually on the sidelines about opportunism. The alternative would be most of the PLP wondering why on earth we’d chosen to bail out Cameron.
We’ll even get the chance to look statesmanlike later on, when the actual deal comes to the vote, and we can keep Cameron on the hook before agreeing to back the deal at the very last moment ‘in the national interest‘.
No, politically, it’s exactly right.
But the whole thing, from a manufactured controversy over a non-binding amendment, to Euro-sceptic posturing and wedge pushing, to Cameron getting his just desserts for his previous thoughtless Euro-populism, to Labour frontbenchers explaining why voting for the impossible is in no way a betrayal of their pro-europeanism, feels also, well, kind of pathetic, and that feels a like a damning reflection on politics as a whole.
I wrote the other day that one of the hard choices of British politics would likely be an acceptance that fixing our economic crisis would require greater Euro-power, and that this would be better structured, and more in our national interest, if it involved Britain.
I don’t like that prospect, but I hold to that view, even in the light of its huge unpopularity. (It’s a lot easier to say that when you don’t have to persuade voters, of course!). I suspect most of the Labour front bench feel the same way, quietly. But we’re helping the most ideologically committed people in British politics undermine the chance of such a strategy being workable, mostly because we think we won’t get landed with the bill.
Politicians, of all parties, talk a lot about hard choices and the long term.
Last night, the decision in the House of Commons was a reflection of a politics of easy hits and headlines
I understand that.
I agree with it as a political strategy.
If I were in the Leader’s suite in Norman Shaw South, I’d back the decision we made.
But, in truth, I don’t like it. Not one bit.