After Labour’s much-derided assault on the Lib Dems last week, one does not have to look far to find despondency within the party’s ranks. “I believed them when they said there wasn’t a 35 per cent strategy,” one MP tells me. “Now I’m convinced there is”. By this, he means a strategy that consists of uniting Labour’s core vote with Lib Dem defectors in an attempt to crawl over the electoral finish line, rather than a more ambitious “40 per cent strategy” that also seeks to win over blue collar non-voters and Conservative supporters.
Those who advocate the latter despair at what they regard as the crude negativity and vacuity of last week’s election broadcast on Nick Clegg (“The Un-credible Shrinking Man”). They worry about the apparent degrading of the “One Nation” frame in favour of an approach that one figure characterises as “cost-of-living, bash the Lib Dems and ‘you can’t trust the Tories with the NHS.'” Rather than “The Un-credible Shrinking Man” it is Labour’s “Incredible Shrinking Offer” that troubles the party’s radicals.
The surge of Ukip in the polls, with the party now regarded as almost certain to win the European elections, has led to open divisions over how to combat the Farageiste threat. While Ed Miliband has focused on attacking Ukip as “more Thatcherite than Thatcher“, Jon Cruddas, Labour’s policy review co-ordinator, eschewed such language in his piece for the Guardian on Thursday (“Ukip isn’t a Tory movement. It’s a party of the disenfranchised English”) advocating a positive approach that recasts Labour as a patriotic “party of the people” and more explicitly addresses anxieties over immigration and welfare.
Other shadow cabinet members complain of the party’s failure to promote its commitment to reform the EU, which they regarded as a quid pro quo for Miliband’s refusal to guarantee an in/out referendum under a Labour government.
I’m told that attempts are now underway to try and bridge the divide, which one MP described as “a fundamental difference of outlook”. But if the party suffers a poor result on 22 May, becoming the first opposition party in the last 20 years not to win the European elections, Labour’s tensions could once again burst into the open.