Things are going well for the country and economy so why is New Labour winning only grudging respect from the electorate?by Matthew Taylor / May 20, 2000 / Leave a comment
Last month I gave a little dinner party. The guests, all like-minded centre-leftists, included a Labour MP first elected in 1997, whom I got to know in my time as Labour’s director of policy; a former ministerial special adviser with a reputation as a New Labour ultra; and a local councillor with decades of experience as a Labour activist. Next morning, clearing away the empty wine bottles, it occurred to me that the significance of our discussion lay not in its brilliance or originality but-quite the reverse-in the absolute certainty that across London thousands of people like us were simultaneously talking in exactly the same depressed terms about the government we had helped to elect.
Our conversation had ranged over the reactionary rhetoric of junior ministers on the Today programme, to the awful mess of the London mayoral election, through to horror stories about by-elections and falling membership, before-seeking reassurance-we returned to list the real achievements of this government.
In some ways it is bizarre that such a negative tone marks so many Labour discussions. Had anyone said that after three years in power the economy would be in sleek shape, that Labour would have subtly raised taxes on the rich and substantially increased support for the poor, and would be about to boost, hugely, investment in the NHS, we would have thought they were allowing hope to be the master of expectation.
But why is a government so good finding it so hard to be loved, even by many of its own core activists? Does this matter, and if so, what might be done about it? From the viewpoint of Labour headquarters at Millbank and of Number 10, the lack of enthusiasm among my circle simply underlines how lefty Guardian-reading types are only happy when they have something to moan about. Such critics are irritating but irrelevant to the ambition of staying in power for a generation. Given the expectations that greeted Labour’s victory, and the poll figures of the early months (Blair reached a 93 per cent approval rating), it was inevitable that some of the gloss would come off. But this is still a remarkably popular government with a remarkably popular leader.
Up to a point. Labour’s performance in real elections such as Ceredigion and Ayr, and in local by-elections, shows support well below the national opinion polls. The May local elections will bring heavy losses…