Thanks David. I’ll do my best to comment intelligently on those points, but…
a) I’m not going to defend Labour’s record on constitutional reform. I think your incisive dig at the party over its motives is probably an allusion to a general half-heartedness or disarray on Lords Reform. I don’t know that it was as nakedly self-interested as being purely a way of blocking the boundary reforms. Maybe (but it wasn’t what stopped the boundary reforms anyway) Also, I don’t really see how it has rebounded. But on Lords Reform, Labour has a poor record. It started the job, but without knowing how it wanted to finish it, and inertia has left us with a half-baked, laughably peculiar system in which we see ‘elections’ for hereditary peers. It’s embarrassing. I do think the second chamber is hugely important, and I wouldn’t be sorry to see it challenge to commons a little more strongly (as many reluctant reformers warn it might). However, it does have to be done right. The 2012 bill was flawed. Labour did not vote against the bill, it voted against the programme motion. In practice, since we weren’t going to get improvements through, that meant choosing the status quo over the flawed alternative. On balance, I’d probably have preferred the flawed alternative, but it’s not necessarily an easy call.
b) Maybe it’s not that different a perspective? As I say, I think they were punished, not for going into government as Andrew George bleated, but for both being drawn into a government where their influence was weak and for campaigning against the cuts they then embraced. That’s why they were identified as close to the Tories, with the consequences in both types of constituency contest that you identify. Maybe, just maybe, if the party reject Lamb and elect a Beveridge-group leader (Farron, being untainted by the coalition, would be the obvious choice) they can move back from the Orange Book fiasco, stop assuming private is always better than public, and get back to wielding some influence again, with 20-30 MPs, within the next decade. Maybe.
c) I’m not denying Beveridge, or Lloyd George, or Gladstone. Or Disraeli or Churchill for that matter. There are great politicians, major and minor, in all of the parties. The people who are capable of thinking differently from their party, crossing traditional boundaries and forming new political allegiances. A minor but notable example was in the news today, the newly elected deputy-chairman of the Conservative party, Robert Halfon, who is a trade unionist campaigning for the party to embrace the movement.
I think what you’re saying is about Labour’s natural base is similar to what I said, when Miliband was elected leader in 2010, about Labour retreating into its comfort zone. Though recent polls made me doubt myself, at the time I didn’t think we could win from there.
So I agree Labour needs to reform, and, indeed, I cannot disagree with anything Tony Blair wrote this weekend.
But though reform is vital, I take issue with ‘Labour will only ever win if they are left of centre, not left’. As Blair says ‘the centre is not where you split the difference between progressive and conservative politics’. I thought the LibDem’s miserably negative campaign in this election exemplified that thinking, with their ‘look left, look right, cross centre’ posters. They defined themselves in terms of what they weren’t. Rather than thinking of the centre as an arbitrary point on an imaginary spectrum, Labour should follow Blair’s advice: ‘The centre ground is as much a state of mind as a set of policies. It means that we appreciate that in today’s world many of the solutions will cross traditional boundaries of left and right. We need not just to be comfortable with this; but actively to seek out the alliances to embrace those outside our tribe as well as within it.’