Stuck in the middle with Labour

Douglas Alexander, Labour’s election co-ordinator, has issued a rallying cry for his party to win over the middle ground of UK politics.

Alexander, the shadow foreign secretary, argued that “a credible and radical manifesto” would see Labour “dominate the centre ground” at the 2015 general election. He also attacked his party’s main rivals, saying “we’ve got the Conservatives in a death struggle with UKIP on the right of politics, we’ve got the Liberal Democrats wandering around trying to re-find their base.”

His comments come in the aftermath of a Mail on Sunday story which alleged that Labour was “in a state of civil war” over its strategy heading into next year’s election. The article also reported a rumour about the potential sacking of Arnie Graf, the American election strategist who has been working with Labour.

Alexander dismissed the story, insisting that his party remains united, saying “the country needs a Labour government, and that’s what we’re focussed on.” He also denied the allegations about Graf, maintaining that the election guru would be involved during next year’s campaign.

The Labour party has to make sure that it is internally stable ahead of the general election if it is to have any chance of convincing the British public to return it to power. Whatever the truth on the inside, continued rumours about Ed Miliband’s control over Labour, particularly in relation to the shadow chancellor Ed Balls, will only damage the party’s credibility.

The main source of reported divisions within the party has been its place on the political spectrum. Despite Alexander’s assurances that Labour can be seen as both “credible” and “radical”, the reality is that the party has a choice when drawing up its election manifesto between the safe option of positioning itself near the centre of the political compass, and the more risky course of shifting towards the left, nearer to the socialist roots of the party.

This choice has come to define Labour leaders – Michael Foot’s 1983 “suicide note” manifesto placed him on the left, whilst Tony Blair famously brought the party firmly into the middle ground of British politics on his way to gaining power in 1997.

Even though he was heralded as “Red Ed” upon becoming party leader in 2010, Miliband has not done much to move Labour away from the centre ground assumed by Blair. Any kneejerk move away from this territory would most likely see Miliband become this generation’s Foot. His main task is to try and regain public trust over Labour’s economic policies, and this won’t be achieved by performing a late about-turn.

There is a lack of a real alternative on the left of the UK political spectrum, and so it is perfectly understandable that Labour’s main strategy for winning in 2015 is gaining voters from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.



Michael Arnott