Saturday, 5 March 2011

Lessons for the Left from Barnsley

Hearty congratulations to Dan Jarvis on winning the Barnsley by-election for Labour with an increased majority. Jarvis, a former Army major who has served in Iraq and Afghanistan, is just the kind of mainstream candidate that Labour needs more of, if it's to persuade the electorate once again (as it did so successfully under Tony Blair) that it’s the party of the whole country, and of government, and not just a protest movement or an unrepresentative oppositionalist rump.

But Labour shouldn’t take too much comfort from the Barnsley result. It can’t be a healthy state of affairs when the Liberal Democrats are beaten into sixth place behind the neo-fascist British National Party. Or when the second-place protest vote goes to the ultra-conservative little-Englanders of UKIP. For all their cosying up to the Cameronians, the LibDems are still the second largest progressive party in Britain. They're the natural allies of Labour and (as Peter Mandelson has been suggesting this week) potentially their partners in a future government. I'm as sickened by Nick Clegg and his Coalition compromises as the next person, but it's not in Labour's interest - and certainly doesn't do anything for re-building a centre-left majority - for his party's vote to collapse. The Barnsley results shows that Labour might pick up some of the fall-out in that event, but so would the illiberal anti-immigrant right.

So, some good news for Labour. But it's definitely two rather than three cheers for democracy.

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