Can Labour Win the Upcoming Elections? Conceiving the Inconceivable

Tumblr_l07vdirxRe1qa1cnp Jonathan Raban in the NYRB blog:

Trying to follow the impending British general election from afar, I’ve been reading The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour by Andrew Rawnsley, chief political commentator for the Observer. Eight hundred pages long, and crammed with “inside” political gossip (or credible intelligence, if you prefer), it’s a book as hard to admire as it is to put down. Though the text is bespattered with authenticating footnotes (many say no more than “Conversation, Cabinet minister”), it reads like airport fiction. Its flawed (and credible) hero is Tony Blair, its cardboard villain Gordon Brown.

The End of the Party seems to have gone to the printers in November 2009. The plot of the book then appeared unassailable. David Cameron’s Conservatives’ lead over Labour in the polls stood at twelve, fifteen, sometimes twenty points, pointing to Brown’s humiliation in the 2010 election (which will almost certainly take place on May 6). The commentariat had appointed Cameron as Britain’s next prime minister, and Gordon Brown and his party were yesterday’s men.

But for the last few months and weeks, the polls have been tightening. The Conservatives are still ahead (averaging out polls over the last twenty days, the useful site UK Polling Report puts the Conservatives at 38 percent, Labour at 31 percent, and the Liberal Democrats at 19 percent). Because the Lib Dems have 63 seats in the present parliament, it’s going to be a far tougher battle than was predicted a few months ago for either the Conservatives or Labour to gain an overall majority. There’s now much talk of a hung parliament and a minority government working in coalition with Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats.

There’s also talk—unthinkable when Rawnsley finished his gravedigging job for Brown’s corpse—of the no longer inconceivable possibility of a Labour victory. On March 25, Andy Beckett wrote a long and characteristically thoughtful piece in the Guardian titled “What Happens If Cameron Loses?”; on March 28, Matthew D’Ancona, the former editor of the Spectator, imagined Gordon Brown relishing his first morning after an election that returns him to Downing Street, while the Conservatives tear themselves apart in their search for David Cameron’s replacement.