5 May 2015

Constructing legitimacy

The masked activists, the pickpockets, pocket-dwellers, pipers, puppet masters -- the explicit content of the Tory general election campaign has been rabidly anti-Nat, but it has been clear for some time that it's real target was always Ed Miliband and his Labour colleagues.  In a narrow sense, the ploy has been understood as a tactical opportunity for the Tories to slap UKIP back in an electoral vice, reclaiming votes in embattled marginals.

This Tory campaign has been widely derided. Those Antipodean (and North American) electoral whizzes are, unsurprisingly, not worth their hire. But in this respect at least, the Conservatives have shown cunning, initiative, and an awareness that you have got to get your retaliation in first in politics. The Independent's leader, endorsing the coalition, puts this now central point of the campaign discourse clearly. 

“For all his talk of no deals with the SNP, Miliband is bound to rely on that party to get his legislative programme through. This would be a disaster for the country, unleashing justified fury in England at the decisive influence of MPs who – unlike this title – do not wish the Union to exist. If that were to be the case while Labour were the second biggest party either in terms of vote share, or seats – or both – how could Labour govern with authority? They could not. Any partnership between Labour and the SNP will harm Britain’s fragile democracy. For all its faults, another Lib-Con Coalition would both prolong recovery and give our kingdom a better chance of continued existence.”
At the risk of labouring the bleeding obvious, political legitimacy doesn't just exist out there, in the ether. That's pure superstition. Legitimacy isn't like an Act of Parliament, an authority to be appealed to, chapter and verse, section and clause. That is pure superstition. It is worked at, argued for, sometimes hard won and sometimes given away for a farthing. And if this Tory campaign has achieved one thing, it has carpet bombed the legitimacy Labour's best and surest way back into power extremely effectively. It helps to have the reactionary press on your side, I grant you. You get a finer, clearer echo from the Mail, Sun, Express and Telegraph.

The Conservatives' future may still hang by a shoogly electoral peg, deprived of sure friends, unable to secure a necessary majority for themselves, but as Alex Massie observes with characteristic clear-sightedness, they've bound and gagged Ed between the Scylla of the SNP north of the border and the Charybdis of the increasingly crotchety plain people of England, who've heard quite enough about frigging Scotland, thank you kindly.

What is remarkable, however, is that the Labour Party has, at every turn, colluded in the undermining of its own position, conceding the Tory logic and competing with their own Nat blasting. A more long-sighted politician would have recognised that allowing your opponent to truss you up like a kipper may afford some temporary respite, a bubble of breathing space in a tough campaign, but is only deferring your troubles. A more courageous politician might try to lead and shape public opinion, rather than biddably taking their opponent's bait, line and sinker. The worm isn't worth the hook.

But like a flailing man at sea, pulled beneath the suds, Ed Miliband has scorned the lifebelt and is seeking to bargain with the very waves drowning him.


  1. From the Independent's leader

    "...would be a disaster for the country..."
    "...will harm Britain's fragile democracy..."
    "...would both prolong recovery and give our kingdom a better chance..."

    Is the country spoken of only England , as indeed there is more than one country in Britain?
    Is Scotland , and therefore the SNP, not a part of Great Britain and it's democracy ?
    Is Scotland , and therefore the SNP, not part of a UNITED kingdom?

  2. I'm afraid that you might be underestimating the limp, floppy Machiavellianism of Ed Miliband. The message of the last few days is essentally this: the SNP are not an authentic Scottish branch of the Labour franchise, and so old Labour voters should not assume that voting SNP will somehow help Labour in the end. It's a very good route to the SNP's vitals. Some voters might even believe it.

    Flailing about in the waves? I'm not sure that Miliband has enough weight to sink...

    1. Archimedes greatest frustration was discovering,like all of us,that keech floats.

    2. I'm hoping a big toilet brush and a triple SNP flush doon the lavvie will work wonders.

    3. "Flailing about in the waves? I'm not sure that Miliband has enough weight to sink..." < I am adding this excellent phrase to my active memory, to supplement my list of ungenerous barbs.

  3. But this surely began with Labour accepting the story that public spending was the cause of the crash, instead of pointing the finger at the financial system and the deregulation they participated in (but which the Tories were cheerleaders for).

    Once they accepted fighting on the Tories territory their legitimacy, at a deeper level, was gone, because how could they believe in themselves any more?


  4. 'But like a flailing man at sea, pulled beneath the suds, Ed Miliband has scorned the lifebelt and is seeking to bargain with the very waves drowning him.'

    Andrew you are channelling Cowper. Ms Austen would approve.

    'No voice divine the storm allayed,
    No light propitious shone,
    When, snatched from all effectual aid,
    We perished, each alone:
    But I beneath a rougher sea,
    And whelmed in deeper gulfs than he.'

    1. I see your Cowper, and raise a Shelley.

      "The breath whose might I have invoked in song

      Descends on me; my spirit's bark is driven,

      Far from the shore, far from the trembling throng

      Whose sails were never to the Tempest given;

      The massy earth and sphered skies are riven!

      I am borne darkly, fearfully, afar;

      Whilst, burning through the inmost veil of Heaven,

      The soul of Adonais, like a star,

      Beacons from the abode where the Eternal are."

    2. 'The Soul of Adonais' - Keats wrote a couplet from Lamia on the back of an envelope (to the publisher Taylor) from John Clare, and Clare later wrote the words 'I am the Last of all the Field that Fell' - words that may possibly find some application on Friday. I doubt that myself, but I also think our waters are not as clearly charted as many believe.

    3. I take from this that Millibland has put a noose around his own neck. He could have appealed to voters in Labour heartlands South of the border, as many would be happy with Labour in power and the SNP steering. Who will they vote for now? The electorate have been played with, like little mice,
      they might not know which way to turn, but many will be turkeys voting for xmas, especially South of the border. They just don't know it yet.

    4. Verse 11 from Hopkins' Wreck of the Deutschland:

      'Some find me a sword; some
      The flange and the rail;flame
      Fang or flood' goes Death on drum
      And storms bugle his fame.
      But we dream we are rooted in earth - Dust!
      Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower be the same,
      Wave with the meadow, forget that there must
      The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.

      In my defence we did Hopkins in 1st year English and I still have my text. Two papers to pad out all the Science.

    5. It brings me great pleasure that my blog attracts only poetry trolls ;-)

    6. Sir, I fear we are getting verse

    7. That suld broon troot lay unner a stane, and unner a stane lay he.
      And he thocht o the wind, and he thocht o the rain, and the troot that he used tae be.

    8. That is fab googled full verson


      Auld Broon indeed!

  5. I think that you may be underestimating the strength of Ed Miliband's position here. There is a reason that he is the bookies' favourite to be the next Prime Minister. Ed Miliband now just needs to win around 270 seats in order to govern and it really does not matter if he comes 2nd in seats. The SNP have already committed to putting Labour into government, that means he can add another 50 MPs to his corner. He should also be able to count on the 3 Plaid MPs, the 1 Green MP and the three SDLP MPs. If it becomes clear that David Cameron cannot command the confidence of the House of Commons, he should in theory resign immediately. As a matter of constitutional convention, he would then be replaced as Prime Minister by the leader of the next biggest party in the House of Commons (ie the leader of the Labour party). Ed Miliband would then have the chance to put Labour's Queen's Speech to the House of Commons. Assuming the anti-Tory parties want to avoid a quick second election which could put the Tories back in, they would have to back Labour's Queen Speech. They would have no choice on this matter really. If they abstain, Labour's Queen Speech could potentially be defeated by a Tory-Lib Dem-DUP bloc vote- although I do think that the Lib Dems without Clegg could potentially side with Labour or at least abstain, and as ever the DUP could be open to persuasion if a deal is reached on increased spending for Northern Ireland. Having been confirmed in government, it would then be incumbent on Labour to seek to govern by consensus and build majority coalitions on a vote by vote basis. I imagine it would be very much like the SNP government circa 2007-2011. There would not be much in the way of primary legislation, but most of the primary legislation that does get passed would be of a centrist/centre left nature and would also be relatively uncontroversial. On the controversial issues of the budget and Trident, I think that the Tories could surely be counted on to back spending cuts and nuclear weapons in all circumstances. As such, the SNP should be able to vote against these measures without the risk of putting the Tories back into power. I am not sure that Ed Miliband's government would last the whole 5 years, but the Fixed Term Parliament Act 2011 definitely helps his position here. Once in power it would be difficult to dislodge him so long as the anti-Tory parties remain committed to keeping the Tories out of government.