David Maddox: Labour isn’t learning lessons

THERE seems to be a strange tradition in Labour – when it is failing to make an impact then a senior figure steps forward to create a huge internal row and get the party back in the headlines again.
Acting Labour party leader Harriet Harman. Picture: PAActing Labour party leader Harriet Harman. Picture: PA
Acting Labour party leader Harriet Harman. Picture: PA

For evidence of that we only have to look at the extraordinary gaffe of a speech made by acting leader Harriet Harman over the weekend. The context of it was a Budget which had left Labour flat on its back, stunned and mouthing wordlessly like a goldfish.

Not only have the Tories stolen that “One Nation” title but they have gone after non-doms, rich pension funds and raised the minimum wage beyond people’s wildest expectations. Either taking a Labour policy or trumping it.

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A leaderless Labour Party were barely making a comment in the stories after that and it was cementing the place of the SNP as the principal opposition if not the official one.

So up steps Ms Harman with a speech which seemed designed to tick all the boxes required for a major party feud. First she says the party needs to elect a leader who it “is not comfortable with”. Then, even more controversially, she says that party will accept the Tory proposals on ending working tax credits for every child over the second in a family after 2017.

Ironically, the immediate reaction to her speech was that three of the leadership candidates – Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Jeremy Corbyn – took the party to a comfortable place and rejected her policy on tax credits.

If Ms Harman had hoped her message would help out the flagging campaign of the fourth candidate, Liz Kendall, the Blairite promising to take Labour into uncomfortable places, then the effect of isolating her has probably finished off any slim hope she had of winning.

Having got Labour back into the headlines for the wrong reasons, Ms Harman then continued on her losing run with an enforced retreat by saying Labour would abstain on the Welfare Reform and Work Bill at second reading then allow a new leader to make up a completely new policy after September for the later stages.

The episode tells us that Labour has not learnt many, if any lessons, from its defeat. The constant infighting and bickering took it from the hegemony of the first decade of the century to the catastrophe of 2015, not only losing in the UK but almost wiped out in Scotland.

And it is clear Ms Harman’s advice will not be heeded because the party is getting ready to elect a leader who will give them a comfort blanket of left wing policies and in so doing lose them another election. The frontrunner is Burnham but it says everything about the state of Labour that the odds have tumbled on the far left Corbyn who is rapidly coming up on the rails.