Gordon Brown and the future of the British left

by Chris Bertram on June 23, 2006

At “urbandriftuk”:http://urbandriftuk.blogspot.com/2006/06/what-will-gordon-do.html , some reflections on the future of British politics and Gordon Brown’s strategy of signalling his moderation to the median voter via a trickle policy announcements.

bq. The worst possible outcome is not necessarily that of a Labour party shut out of power for the foreseeable future, but that of a Labour government enjoying sustained electoral success in a society that has become more rightwing under its watch. Gordon Brown may harbour a progressive vision of the ideal society, but without a different approach, and with time, and the patience of the left running out, the challenge of rectifying the rightward drift of British society will be insurmountable.



david g 06.23.06 at 4:15 am

what rightward drift?


Dave 06.23.06 at 4:23 am

What left?


soru 06.23.06 at 4:47 am

The basic premise of a rightward drift in UK society seems a bit unsupported.

Does anyone know of any long-term opinion poll data asking basic questions like ‘does inequality matter?’, ‘can the government act successfully to change the balance of the economy?’, ‘should gay marriage be legal?’, ‘is immigration a serious problem?’…

Of course, it does rather depend on what you mean by left and right.


Matt McGrattan 06.23.06 at 4:59 am

There does seem to have been a marked policy drift to the right. Labour are consistently introducing legislation that would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.

Whether that reflects an actual rightward drift among constituents is another matter (and I suspect it does not).


Stuart 06.23.06 at 5:24 am

Labour policy making going rightwards could be one of two things, either a general drift to the right of politics, or – more likely in my opinion – a general converging towards the centre of both Labour and Conservative policies. Of course as the Conservatives are out of power while this has happened, its hard to say whether it is positioning by them to try and catch the moderate voters but would be followed by right wing policies if they actually ever get back in.


snuh 06.23.06 at 5:58 am

i’m a foreign observer with very little knowledge of british politics, so i don’t know if that makes me impartially wise or totally ignorant in this case. but, i am amazed at how blair-disfavoured labour constituencies are basically setting themselves up to be betrayed all over again, this time by brown.

they’ve thrown all their eggs in the “things will be better when gordie gets in” basket, but their only apparent criteria for doing so is a belief that this will be the case. and not, say, actual evidence of it. the only answer i get from brits when i point this out will usually boil down to “well at least he’s better than blair”, which again may or may not turn out to be true.

perhaps a brit can explain why this belief is so widespread.


chris y 06.23.06 at 6:34 am

snuh, to be perfectly honest it’s a counsel of despair. I suspect most remaining LP members (on a moment’s reflection, I believe every member I knew well, which was most of my friends, has left by now) simply cannot think of anyone else who would be taken seriously. There used to be apparently credible alternatives – Bryan Gould (returned to NZ), Robin Cook (dead), or hopefuls – Harriet Harman (discredited), Andrew Smith (inadequate). Now there’s a howling wasteland and Brown is the last man standing.


Doug 06.23.06 at 6:52 am

The quoted bit seems close to either “there’s no difference between the two major parties” or “since the left isn’t perfect, why not let the right win, how much worse can they be”. Since this post is tagged “us politics”, I’ll remind readers that both of these thoughts were commonly heard during the 2000 presidential election. The first thought has been definitively refuted, and the answer to the second is, as Brad DeLong often puts it, “worse than you can imagine, even when you take into account that the [right-wing government] is worse than you can imagine.


Cian 06.23.06 at 7:31 am

The thing about British politics, that people always seem to discount, is that the votes of a small proportion of the voters are the only ones that really matter. Consequently the parties aren’t converging to the centre, they’re converging to the political centre of marginal constituencies, which is a rather different thing.

As for choice. Unless you live in a marginal seat, you don’t have a choice. Your vote, your opinion, really doesn’t matter – and both parties know this.


Chris Bertram 06.23.06 at 7:55 am

Since this post is tagged “us politics”

My bad, now fixed.


Henry 06.23.06 at 8:22 am

Does anyone know what Ed Balls’ speech to Compass was like? Counsels of moderation? (I’m hopeful that Compass might help keep Brown honest, but a little worried at how effective it will be given his recent pronouncements).


Shelby 06.23.06 at 11:47 am


Much the same is true of US politics (only the marginal voters/seats matter). In fact, are there any extant democracies where that isn’t true, except in rare and bizarre circumstances such as Florida in 2000?


Gar Lipow 06.23.06 at 1:56 pm

>Much the same is true of US politics (only the marginal voters/seats matter). In fact, are there any extant democracies where that isn’t true, except in rare and bizarre circumstances such as Florida in 2000?

Democracies with Choice voting – Proportional Rep or even IRV. For example – Germany, Italy, Israel, Australia, Denmark…


kiki 06.23.06 at 10:34 pm

Does fear (of immigrants, of terrorism, of the world) lead a society to shift to the right since it leads to a growing cry for order and for protection against an ennemi, which may be real or imagined?


Jim 06.25.06 at 4:53 am


You asked whether there’s any survey evidence to inequality, immigration, etc. The annual British Social Attitudes Survey asks a plethora of questions of this type, and there’s a fantastic website here which gives time series of the results. I’ve just spent a few minutes poking about the data and there does seem to be a bit of a rightward lurch, if only particularly significant when comparing the most recent year’s figures (2004) to the mid-1990s.

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