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There is an old saying or cliché if you will, that cannot be stressed enough when looking at the current political stalemate; history does not repeat itself, it only appears to do so to those who do not understand its consequences. It is very easy to say that the hung parliament is a 1974 moment, or that the election is a repeat of 1992, or even parallels with hung parliaments of the 1920s. For all the comparisons, this is 2010 and the lessons of each parallel needs to be looked at and learnt from.
From a personal point of view the most important of these is 1992; an election result that although at the time was a great disaster for the Labour Party, in hindsight was very much a good election to lose. It was whilst the Tory party stumbled on and embarrassed itself that I first followed politics and I do not wish the Labour party the same fate. The Conservatives had just been given one final chance by the British public, after rejecting the alternative in Neil Kinnock’s Labour party. For the Conservatives it was a great victory, it was a victory less than two years after the resignation of Margaret Thatcher, it proved they were the serious party of government, at the same time the Labour Party was in the midst of a crisis of confidence. It was genuinely asked at the time; would Labour be the party of government again?

However, the reality of the fourth Tory term would be one of major modernisation for the Labour party, in both substance and style, at a point in which the Conservative government imploded and ultimately led to the 1997 Labour landslide. It is not identical to now, but enough similarities are there to heed warnings to Gordon Brown and today’s Labour Party. The Conservatives were not elected, not because of what they would do, but rather what they would not do, in opposition to what Labour would do. The Tory campaign is remembered for the “tax bomb” poster, which encapsulated the anti-Labour, as opposed to pro-Tory, message. The rejection of Labour was largely down to arguments about the role of income tax. The defeat for Labour meant that the party had to radically re-think its approach to tax and spending, whilst the Tories were lulled into a false sense of alignment with the British public.

Thus, Labour renewed, modernised and changed, controversially through the rightful abolition of clause four and the commitment to fund public services, whilst maintaining the level of income tax. This was the deal that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown struck with the British public in 1997, in effect the manifesto of New Labour abolished the choice posed in 1992; do you want high taxes and good services or bad services and moderate taxation? The results in 1997, and our achievements since, were a vindication of the changes that New Labour made. And this in comparison to the Conservatives that rambled on for five years, in a government that destroyed the notion that they were the natural party of government. The results of 1997 were not just an acceptance of Labour, but a wholesale rejection of the Conservative Party. Thus crucially this was the difference between a party that realised major change to its thinking was needed and another that did not.

So how does Labour learn from this, to move forward today? Eighteen years later the shoe is on the other foot. Labour, now the governing party has been seeking an unprecedented fourth term, whilst the Conservatives are desperate to get out of the footholds of opposition. Then as now, the governing party has experienced a severe fall in popularity, again, with a mid-term change in Prime Minister, who has been seeking a mandate of their own from the British people. Similarly, the leader of the opposition had enjoyed mammoth opinion poll leads, which evaporated as polling day approached; both Neil Kinnock and David Cameron failed to seal the deal with the electorate. The difference, in my personal opinion is that Cameron has two major factors in his favour that Kinnock did not; money and media support. This is the difference between Cameron being able to negotiate now with the Liberal Democrats now and facing the humiliation that was left to Kinnock after Major scrapped to a wafer thin majority.
So what does the current Labour Party learn from this? It seems clear now that the opportunity to accept defeat and reflect is the right way forward. The opportunity to heed the lessons learnt from 13 years in office, then re-boot and re-new under a new Labour leader. The opportunity to do what the Conservatives never did in the 1990s, which is to learn from the mistakes of government and rebuild to form a new government in the next five years. The price to pay for that opportunity is to see David Cameron in 10 Downing Street and George Osborne in number 11. This is not something that I can ignore, having spent the last five years desperate to keep them out. It is thanks to the fight that we put up in the campaign they do not a majority to have full reign on power.

The very fact that they will have to deal with the Liberal Democrats plays to the advantage of the British people and the electorate. The Tories cannot claim a right to govern and the Liberal Democrats can block the more extreme parts of their agenda. We know that the Tories want to cut away at the economic support now, but this will now require the support of parties that disagree with that approach. We fear, from leaked emails that they will raise VAT and cut inherence tax, essentially increasing taxes on the poorest and cutting for the richest. The risks of having Cameron and co in Downing Street are severely lessoned. Labour in opposition has the opportunity to observe and criticise the Tory-Liberal government, whilst building a new manifesto for progress.

Furthermore, the very fact that the Liberals Democrats are dealing with Tories taints their brand too. Think of those voters that voted Lib Dem in opposition to a Tory, to stop the Tories, will they be thankful for the Liberals propping up a Tory government? We know that that Liberals are an amalgamation of Liberals (large L) and social democrats. This is Labour’s chance to expose the limited Liberals and offer a home for the social democrats. The Labour Party is their natural home. We believe that people should not be abandoned to the market, that protecting people in society is more important than allowing the rich to get richer. We have had numerous majority Labour governments for 65 years and that legacy is now embedded in Britain. Be it the NHS, the welfare state, our education system, the minimum wage or rights for workers.
This is OUR social democratic legacy. This is the reason we are in the Labour Party over any other. David Cameron has stood for change, but the only party to radically change the country since the Second World War has been the Labour Party. But, democracy is not about the same party being in power and we must now accept the death of the current government, 1997-2010. The party must now re-build and move forward. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels, nor can we or the British public afford to make old achievements a case for government, we must have a manifesto that will deal with the problems of this century. New Labour was the future once, but it is now sixteen years since Tony Blair became our leader. The next election will not be about the same issues as Tony Blair faced in 1994.

Having said this, we do not have a new government until a leader can command the support of the majority in the commons. There is always government and there is always a Prime Minister, Brown should remain in place until David Cameron can command a majority in the commons, as will happen later this week. To quote Sir Humphrey Appleby “government doesn’t just stop”.

And then we need to fight for David Miliband to lead the Labour Party.