On Labour’s silence and Cameron’s illusion

Being in opposition is a curious business, one which takes some getting used to. The last time I personally was in such a situation was many years ago in the grey days of Major and it must be said that for many of those days, the Labour party struggled really to qualify as real “opposition”. Back in those days before the economy swelled and then popped; back when my hair grew long and wavy and in my infancy of intellect i would read the Sun newspaper, before that newspaper became a supporter of Labour, or even before the man many would argue Labour has to thank for being in Government at all, John Smith, who would come to rouse both nation and party (it takes such lifting to produce a landslide).

The current Labour party cuts a bitter and silent shadow in opposition. And well they might as a world of phenomenal and cataclysmic events from the World Cup to BP, from Israel to Whitehaven serves only to further diminish their ever dwindling column inches.  What writing is not given in support of the ruling coalition is unlikely to be spared for the quiet opposition at the moment, there’s just too much else going on for the world to read about.

Receiving plenty of attention is David Cameron.  Many, including this writer, poked at Cameron while in opposition for his lack of plan and policy.  Since his entry into Number 10 he has dutifully and sensibly stood by those few comfortable bits and pieces he had pledged to incept.  However this week started the real business of tackling the broken economy and his strategy has been to say that things were worse than he had thought and that as such he has had to re-evaluate his plans.

Ingenious. A ploy I think we have all used in school when caught not doing our homework: “sorry sir, i thought we had to do something else. I’ll do it for next week.”  Whereupon the sharper teacher would of course ask, “well show me what you thought was going on and what you actually did.”  Labour, however, is not playing the part of the sharper teacher at the moment, rather that of the supply teacher, standing in for Mr Smith or Mr Blair or maybe even Mr Brown.

Granted the party is leaderless, but that shouldn’t mean headless.  While the English football team rustles up a new captain because something untoward has happened to the incumbent, we are subjected to a plethora of inches telling us how so-and-so is still a natural leader anyway and the squad is full of them. Surely a political party only just removed from governing one of the world’s most prominent nations can pull together the wherewithal to ask searching yet obvious questions of its opponents.

Instead under the comfortable blanket of much mass media support, once enjoyed by Labour and now taken away, Cameron is allowed to unfurl his plans for massive cuts in full view and make it appear the paradigm of honesty.  For a party that struggled for months and years to put together coherent strategy, it’s difficult to believe that they have evaluated and come with a new plan for the economy in the space of a month without having had the plan for a massive axe hidden in the unprinted part of their manifesto in the first place.

Without strength of opposition in both voice and purpose, Cameron is actually able to unleash these cuts with the air of a man doing us all a favour and worse still for Labour, a man who is only pushing back the previous government’s veil of deceit.

If it could be any worse than that, Cameron recently blamed government spending, the financial services and immigration, three political provocateurs of the highest order and yet Labour’s voice is largely silent.  The Conservatives have yet to outline a solid policy on any of these areas still.  And yet still we hear very little from the red corner.

Opposition is not a time to lick wounds, that time is not afforded; it’s a time to inflict wounds of your own.  Labour doesn’t have the grace of media favour it once did, indeed the party doesn’t have a leader, but permitting the governing coalition to settle they only make the job of opposition more difficult.  There has to be direction, there has to be probing questions, there must be impact and there must be defence of their former government if they believe it can return or even just if they believed in what it was doing in the first place.

By allowing Cameron to blame Britain’s economic failings on Labour for three areas for which he failed to produce a memorable policy his whole time in shadow, Labour will allow him to successfully conjure the illusion that the nation’s problem are indeed all Labour’s fault and that his massive cuts, details of which he declines to release, are indeed just the only viable solution, instead of being the agenda that he’s had in his back pocket the whole time.

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