Saturday, March 06, 2010

Achilles Heels

All elections leave a lasting legacy, but if there was one election in modern times which has influenced more or less everything that has happened in British politics since then, it is surely 1983.

The catastrophic defeat suffered by Michael Foot’s Labour Party in that year began the process of self-examination and reform which eventually begat New Labour in the 1990s and shaped the politics of today.

In the wake of Mr Foot’s death aged 96 this week, the most intriguing tribute came from the lips of Tony Blair - “he was as far removed from the techniques of modern politics as it was possible to be.”

Only Mr Blair with his silken charm could have made this sound like a compliment. In truth, he dedicated moreorless the whole of his career to wiping out all trace of the Labour Party which Mr Foot represented.

Labour went into that 1983 election with so many weak spots it must have been hard for Margaret Thatcher’s Tories to decide which one to target.

The 700-page manifesto with its raft of left-wing policies – later dubbed the longest suicide note in history – was not the half of it. Their real Achilles Heel was poor Mr Foot himself.

This week’s outpouring of grief over the death of this much-loved Labour hero was doubtless genuine, but the harsh truth is that Mr Foot should never have become Labour leader.

His narrow victory over Denis Healey in 1980 robbed it of the one man who might have been capable of stopping the Thatcher juggernaut in its tracks.

Twenty-seven years on, Labour is once more going into an election in which its leader is viewed as its Achilles Heel.

David Cameron certainly thinks so. That much was clear when he unveiled the Tories’ campaign slogan ‘Vote for Change’ at the party’s Spring conference in Brighton last weekend.

What he was really saying to the public here was: “You either vote for me, or you get another five years of you know who.”

As I noted in this column several months back, persuading the public to vote for five more years of Gordon Brown was always likely to be Labour’s toughest challenge in the forthcoming contest.

And yet, as it turned out, the week’s events have exposed the Tories’ own Achilles Heel, in the shape of its deputy chairman and billionaire benefactor Lord Ashcroft.

The Electoral Commission has now ruled that his £5.1m donations to the Tories were “permissible,” but the row over his tax status seems set to rumble on.

It had long been thought that he agreed to become resident in the UK for tax purposes when he received his peerage in 2000, but it has now emerged that he has paid no tax on his overseas earnings since then.

Not the least of the Tories’ problems is that their former leader William Hague, who recommended him for the peerage, only became aware of this fact in the past few months, and Mr Cameron even more recently than that.

The Tories have inevitably sought to portray all this as a distraction from the main issues of the economy and how to tackle the deficit, and so in a sense it is.

And yet, if it leaves a bad enough smell in those marginal constituencies which have been targeted by the Ashcroft millions, it may yet save the day for Labour.

A few months back, it seemed possible that Gordon Brown might lead Labour to an even worse result in 2010 than Michael Foot did in 1983 - an outcome which would have neatly brought the New Labour story full circle.

Thanks in part to Lord Ashcroft, he is now back in with a fighting chance.

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Anonymous said...

Why should anyone pay tax on money earned in another country to the UK government? I don't understand it as surely the country in whiich it is made has every right to the tax. The whole idea of non doms is old and it attracts people and money to this country. All Parties have their non dom donors and I just can't see why this is important while it is legal. Anyway the sight of 'lord Peter' lecturing anyone on morality is sickening, the media may love him but the voting public don't.

Robert said...

And yet the suicide note of 1983 is with us now, if the banks do not work with us, we will take them over, we have now.

Look at our railways they are for the rich not the poor, it's cheaper for me to drive a car then it is to travel on a train.

yes we have New labour and the Labour party has died, and I may as well vote BNP as vote Labour, we have taken a whole bunch of people out of politic by having two right wing Tory parties.

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Robert said...

God marry your doing the rounds love flogging your rubbish