What the hell is wrong with Labour?
I'm serious, they probably couldn't be a more incompetent opposition if they tried. The government has given them so, so many open goals, so many opportunities to utterly destroy their credibility - and I say that as a pro-coalition Lib Dem.
Let me give you an example, last Wednesday, Ed Miliband faced off against David Cameron in Prime Minister's Questions. He could have hammered the government hard over cuts to disability benefits which the Lords were voting on later that night. He could have pointed out how unfair and unnecessary it was to deny profoundly disabled children the right to independence in adult life through removing their benefits, how the cost arguments didn't add up when the government was preparing to spend billions on HS2 which will inevitably end up over budget. But instead Ed chose to get into an argument about rail fare increases - one where both he and Cameron argued about whose figures were correct (according to FactCheck they were each partly right and partly wrong) - it might have been mildly interesting or informative but a knock out blow to the coalition it wasn't. And then Ed raised the matter of Scottish independence and both men had a chance to play at being statesmen - something which Cameron usually manages to do slightly better than Ed does.
So, once again, it was, at best for Labour, a draw. And yet later that same night the government received a massive defeat on disability benefit cuts in the Lords - an unprecedented triple defeat in fact. And then later on, to make things even better for Labour, Lord Freud used underhanded tactics to try and reverse the democratic will of the House.
But, because Labour hadn't mentioned it earlier, the story only got 45 seconds on the news and Chris Grayling was able to go onto Newsnight (which opened the segment with a piece by a tory former DWP minister on why the benefits system needed reforming) and spouting the usual paper thin guff about why the government's proposals to hit vulnerable disabled people purely for the sake of cost were actually the best thing since sliced bread. The entire story of the government's defeat was forgotten about in a whole news cycle despite the fact that masses of disabled people have revolted against the governments proposals, got the subject trending on twitter and have published a devastating report completely demolishing the governments plans on Disability Living Allowance (which will be voted on in the Lords next week).
This was a golden opportunity for Labour to force the issue onto the agenda and gain masses of political capital. Instead, just as they did for thirteen years in government, Labour seems intent on squandering chance after chance after chance. This is a government making a hash of already unpopular and complex NHS reform, making several counter productive cuts purely to satisfy the blinkered ideology of tory backbenchers and generally creating a crisis for themselves every other week.
But the best Labour seems to be able to think of is Ed Balls suddenly coming out and definitively yielded the entire economic argument to the coalition, agreeing to fight the battle entirely on their terms, and thereby losing any reason for support from the sizeable chunk of the public that disagrees with the government's strategy. The fact is that polls show that people aren't satisfied with government economic policy but think Labour are likely to be even worse. Putting up the backs of Labour's core voters by accepting massive and, let's be honest, at least sometimes unnecessary, public service cuts is going to make left wing voters consider finding another party (such as the resolutely anti-cuts Greens) while doing nothing much to gain any new support as more moderate voters will just see this as the latest of a series of Labour flip-flopping and mixed messages on the economy.
Labour should be destroying the coalition's economic credibility on specific arguments it knows it can win, while also setting out solid alternatives. And please note, a jobs scheme, a VAT cut, and gods knows what else relatively minor tinkering, all to be paid for out of the same, limited revenue raising of an unsustainable bonus tax, does not count as an alternative economic policy. When you say "we'd cut differently" the obvious question people will ask is "How?"
There is no more perfect time to be in opposition, the situation could hardly be more perfect and yet Labour are making a hash of it. And that's deeply worrying given that a) our political system requires an effective opposition to keep the government in check and b) even Lib Dems like me really don't like the idea of a Labour collapse if it means a massive boost to the tories.
For what it's worth, my assessment is that the Labour leadership doesn't seem to have any sort of ideological framework or vision and instead are obsessed simply with winning elections in order to win power for the sake of power. Don't get me wrong, I have fundamental disagreements with many elements of social democratic philosophy but if ever we needed a counterweight to neo-liberalist capitalist excess then it's now.
But all Labour's leaders can seem to think of is pandering to the prejudices of one set of voters after another - so one week you get Liam Byrne demonising disabled people by playing into the "scrounger" narrative and then attacking the coalition for "crossing a basic line of British disability" on disability benefit cuts the next.
If I was in opposition, I'd be having a field day right now. And I don't even have much of an interest in Labour doing well, other than my fervent belief that the best outcome for my party and the country after 2015 would be one which does not end up in a tory majority government or a renewal of the coalition. So when I say this it's mainly with frustration at the sheer apparent stupidity of the people deciding Labour's strategy.
Seriously Labour, please get your act together. I don't care what direction you pick as long as you pick one and stick to it. And quite frankly, facepalming at your actions on such a regular basis is bad for my health.