As someone who sees himself as, at times, or in part, on the political left, I've seen all of this kind of thing before. By 'this kind of thing' I mean the sudden hostility between Labour and the Lib Dems, which of course existed before, but is even more vicious now that the Lib Dems have got a fingernail in power and Labour have been nudged into a period of soul-searching, rebooting and opposition - or perhaps just the repositioning and rebranding that worked so well last time.
I had it once described to me that the Right are like Catholicism - strong, pigheaded, determined, blindly faithful despite whatever evidence to the contrary might turn up, but united, powerful, cohesive. Whereas the Left are a bit like Protestantism - because their very existence came about as a protest about something and as a reform, they can't help looking at themselves and wondering which bit needs reforming next, and which bit they can protest about - leading to more and more splits and splinters along the way. Which is why we have a rainbow coalition of Proddy churches and just the one bloc of Catholics. I can see the argument, and it makes a bit of sense. But I would hope that somewhere along the line the left might try and get over these stumbling blocks, and over their (our) inherent desire to reform, to criticise, to protest and to maybe think about the consequences of the endless infighting, splitting and so on.
Maybe that's hopelessly naive, and I really ought to go outside and have a word with myself. Probably it is. I get the sense among many on the left, and I'm thinking about New Labour cheerleaders here, that they feel a bit betrayed by what the Lib Dems have done - getting a bit of power in return for shacking up with the Tories and biting the bullet on stuff they used to believe in. That's the charge, anyway. I'm not so sure it's as simple as that, though. Because many of us who are on the liberal rather than authoritarian left (there I go, splitting again), and don't really like the Tories, will have already seen things happen which have cheered us - the scrapping of ID cards, for example, or the disposal of the Heathrow 3rd runway plans. It's not been a terrible start from the Lib-Con pact. I mean don't get me wrong - the forthcoming destruction of the public sector is going to be a bloodbath. But not everything is horrific. That medddling, overbearing, anti-freedom side of New Labour which many lefties will have disliked has gone. In its place, differently unpleasant things, yes; but progress on some civil liberties issues.
People talk about diversity, as if New Labour was some kind of shining example. I don't really think it was. When public schoolboy Tony Blair defeated comp-school John Major and then stuffed Government with his old lawyer mates, did we all chunter on about a land grab? I'm not so sure we did. We probably ought to have done, but that's a different matter entirely. No point in bleating about the public school and Oxbridge credentials of the Government, either; that's the way in every other large organisation in Britain so I don't see why Government should be jarringly different. Everywhere else, a nice public school and farting around Oxford or Cambridge for a couple of years means you're automatically at the top of the pecking order - why do we expect Government to be any different? Why should we? I see people complaining about this kind of thing at the Guardian and Observer - and I suppose those newsrooms are chock full of comprehensive school people who went to former polytechnics? Did New Labour, with their crippling tuition fees and student debt, do anything to stop this kind of thing, or did they accelerate it?
Same old lefties, always splitting, always fighting. It's started already, the bitterness between Lib Dems and Labour, and it's going to get worse. Labour probably see it as a chance to put Lib Dems in the crosshairs to be tainted by the Tories, which of course they will be in a lot of people's eyes. But I still think that's missing something. It's missing the idea that people didn't vote Labour because they didn't want to vote Labour. Not everyone is united against the Tories in a way that some of us were in, say, the 1980s. A lot of us had our hopes for substantial change wrecked by three New Labour governments - nothing on electoral reform (until the game was up), not much on reform of the House of Lords. And then there was war. You can say that the Conservatives or Lib Dems might have done exactly the same thing with regards to Iraq, but we won't know, because they weren't in power; all we do know is that New Labour took the decisions they took, because God told Tony Blair it was the right thing to do, and the millions of protesters were completely ignored. It's all very well saying "Forget that, come back, at least we're not the Tories", but for a lot of us, that isn't going to work.
Same old lefties, always fighting. I would like to hope that New Labour, now that they're finished, might try and take a long hard look at what went wrong, and why we now have a Conservative-LibDem coalition in power. They can blame everyone except themselves, or they can try to take responsibility for why they alienated so many voters. Is it just that Gordon Brown was a bit dour and turned voters off? Or was there something else going on? Did the endless years of spin, war and clampdown on freedom eventually make voters throw up their hands and reject the whole project? For years, New Labour went further and further to the right, assuming that it would just drag the left on a lead all the way, through all the neoliberal delights, the increases in inequality, the war, the lack of progress on reform, and that we'd all just have to say yes because they were the only show in town.
Perhaps that wasn't going to last forever. Perhaps Labour needs to win back the former supporters it has treated with contempt for these past few years. Perhaps they might realise that some of the policies they advocated were highly unpopular. But I doubt that's going to happen. What I see happening is just a rebranding exercise. Get a nice Miliband in to run the show* and change some colours around, move further to the right, try to outstrip the Tories, show even more contempt for traditional Labour voters, expect that horrified Lib Dems will abandon their party to oblivion because of association with the Tories, and hope that'll be enough. I don't think it will be. But I can't see anything else happening.
Same old lefties, always complaining. Except I'm not complaining that much. Not yet. There'll come a time for that, obviously, when we see what's really in store for us over the next few years, but that's for then, not now. There is a small-l liberal element to the new Government, albeit a Tory one that's going to do some horrible things to the country. Things could still be a lot worse. I don't think this is going to be a great Government, or even a good one; I just know that it's not New Labour, and that makes me a bit relieved. I know I shouldn't feel that way, but I do. Maybe I'm just a splitter. Maybe I'm just carrying on with the infighting, I don't know. But for now, things can only get bitter.
* I've always preferred Ed to David. Ed reminds me of a nice next-door neighbour in a 1980s sitcom, coming round to borrow the lawnmower while wearing a big white jumper. David looks a bit like a 9-year-old chess prodigy who doesn't talk to girls because he's too shy. Maybe I'm wrong entirely, I don't know.