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Labour is the third party, get used to it

14 January 2012

10:43 AM

14 January 2012

10:43 AM

This has been a terrible week for the Labour leader – truly, bone-crunchingly
awful. Inevitable comparisons have been made with the IDS era of the Tory wilderness years, but this is different because it is Labour. Conservative leaders are trophies, symbols of the best or
worst the party can aspire to at any given time. But Labour leaders are expected to embody hopes and dreams: they are pragmatic Utopianism made flesh. If all political careers end in failure, then
Labour leaders always fail better. Could Ed Miliband fail best of all?

Patrick O’Flynn of the Express tweeted this week that the Labour Party’s irritation at their ideas on executive pay
being poached by the government reminded him of how the Lib Dems used to behave. I think he is on to something. It took the Tories a long time to learn how to do opposition after they lost power in
1997. They still felt that power had been somehow stolen from under their noses, despite the obvious message of the Blair landslide. Long years passed and it was only really when David Davis began
to take chunks out of Home Office ministers that they really became a fighting force, holding the government to account. Only then could they start on the task of looking like a potential
government, a job they had only half-cracked by 2010.

One of the many difficulties for Labour is that it is the Official Opposition, but effectively only the third party. The sooner it realises this the better. Labour just does not matter all that
much. Having its ideas filched is the best it can hope for, at least for the time being. Humility is the best lesson Ed Miliband can learn: not the humility of the humiliated, but the humility of
the humble.

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