That LibDem-supporting columnist John Harris (no relation) is today calling for a lurch to the Left to meet the challenge of Cameron’s new Conservatives. He attacks John Hutton for his “fierce hostility to any calls for new employment regulation” and then states: “Given that Harriet Harman won last year’s deputy leadership election by affecting a tack leftwards, and 92% of Labour donations are now coming from the unions, this kind of heresy will no longer fly.”
Harris adds: “What might have seemed the right Labour path for the 1990s is increasingly looking like the wrong course for the early 21st century. In the wake of the credit crunch, New Labour’s obeisance to the free market is looking very rusty indeed.”
Well, two obvious questions first: hasn’t Harris been a constant critic of New Labour under Blair? So there’s nothing new here; he would have said exactly the same thing three years ago in the wake of the third general election victory that Blair and New Labour delivered.
Second, is he saying that Cameron is currently popular because he’s so different from Blair and New Labour, or because he’s perceived as the same? Is Labour losing support to the Tories because we’re not left wing enough? (Okay, that’s three questions, I know.)
I don’t suggest that there shouldn’t be a debate within government and the party about how we reconnect with the electorate – the whole electorate and not just Labour’s so-called “core vote”. But when people are clearly feeling the strain of rising prices, now is not the time to be quite so dismissive, as Harris is, of “the liberal tradition for ‘instinctively disliking income tax’.” The electorate – all parts of it – dislike income tax. If we’re to re-engage voters, we could get off to a worse start than by accepting that we share that partcular opinion.