Not with any great enthusiasm, you understand. This isn’t 1997. There’s no sense of change or imminent renewal at this election; just resigned acceptance of four more years of the same (not withstanding the inevitable swap of Blair and Brown at some point). But nonetheless, it’s going to be Labour getting our vote again.
For several reasons.
Just picture the abject horror of waking up on May 6th (too old to stay up all night and watch the results come in now – not like in ’97) and discovering that Michael Howard, that odious arse-leech, and his band of nondescript political lightweights (truly, the term ‘shadow cabinet’ has never been more appropriate) are suddenly running the show. Imagine Howard’s smug, grinning, punchable face on the front page of all the newspapers and just feel the dread that would still arise from having the Tories back in power, eight years after the landslide that buried them. It doesn’t bear thinking about. Yes, it’s a sad reflection on our current political situation, but the fact remains: for all New Labour’s faults (and there are many), their principal advantage is still Not Being The Conservatives.
The Conservative Party has fought a bitter, nasty little campaign. Who can blame them? They need all the help they can get. Their continued attempt to make immigration the central issue was vile, as were the personal attacks. They were also hypocritical: trying to make political capital out of a war they backed and continue to back is duplicitous in the extreme. Luckily, most polls show that it is all backfiring. Come Friday morning, Michael Howard will be considering his position and his party will be right back where they started: rudderless, visionless and offering no real alternative for anybody.
Not that this is good for our democracy, which requires an effective opposition to operate properly. Blair has been spoiled for eight years with a massive majority and a weak and divided opposition. The ideal situation for this election would be for Labour to be returned with a majority, but nothing like the one they have enjoyed these last two terms. Perhaps one that would require working more closely with the Liberal Democrats, who have yet to convince anyone that they are ready to run a bath, let alone a country. (Charles Kennedy seems like a very nice bloke, and he’s probably a great laugh down the pub, but try and picture him at a sit-down with George Bush and Dick Cheney. You can’t, can you?) But a Labour government with a small Lib Dem coalition would be ideal. Labour’s authoritarian streak could be kept in check, Kennedy et al would get exposure to the actual running of government and the Tories would be relegated to Britain’s third party. Everybody wins.
The fact is, with the divisive issue of Iraq aside, Labour are still the only party worth voting for in 2005. At least, the only party who can actually form a government. Even if you hate Blair for Iraq, it’s not worth risking a Conservative government for it: they would have done exactly the same, perhaps even earlier. Instead focus on the facts: enormous increases, with more to come, for education and the health service. By 2008, when the spending peaks, we will actually be spending the same (or thereabouts) proportion of GDP on health-care as France and Germany. This is significant. Incredibly expensive, and it will result in inevitable tax rises some point soon, but significant all the same. Much can also be said about their handling of the economy. Handing interest rates decisions to the Bank Of England was a brilliant move and we have had eight years of continuous growth. Much of it has been serendipitous – a government can only take so much credit in a global economy – but Gordon Brown has been a very good Chancellor by anybody’s standards and will also, we suspect, make a very good Prime Minister. This is important, because in a way we are voting for him on Thursday.
So, Labour. Not perfect, by any means, but in the absence of a true alternative, there is nobody else deserving of our vote at this moment in time.