Alex Hilton: Stealing a march on the opposition

I asked Tony Blair once why we were pursuing the choice agenda in health and education when people simply wanted their nearest school and hospital to be top class.

Alex Hilton
Alex Hilton

He told me it was a right-wing policy, but it was sane, and if we took the most right-wing path we could stomach, there would be no sane policy territory left for the Conservatives.

Despite my objections, in terms of strategy he was right, and for a long time the Tories had no policies they could sensibly present as alternatives. There is a lesson here for David Cameron should he form a government in May.

Cameron has to consider what is the most left-wing agenda he is prepared to follow. For example, he could press forward with Post Office part-privatisation, accelerate the city academies programme and extend the academies model to Sure Start, primary schools and further education colleges. Doing so would drive a wedge through the heart of Labour between those who supported these measures in government and those who never did; and the Conservatives could frame the context of Labour's next leadership election.

But to divide the opposition, he would also have to jettison any proposal that unites the Labour Party, abandoning pledges on fox hunting, marriage tax allowances or restricting abortion rights.

The opportunity for Cameron is the prospect of a snap general election within a year against a riven Labour Party and a possible extension of his own majority. The challenge for Labour is how to respond.

In the event of defeat, with a post-election debt to repay, the unions would be crucial allies in helping the Labour Party recover. Yet maintaining policies in opposition that support private involvement in public services may make that support untenable.

But if the unions want a Labour government, they too need to assess what is the most centrist position they can stomach.

If Cameron wins the election, the whole Labour movement will have to decide whether it is a party of government or a party of principled opposition.

- Alex Hilton is a Labour parliamentary candidate and founder of political blogs Labourhome and Recess Monkey.

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