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New Left Review I/157, May-June 1986

Anthony Arblaster

Labour’s Future and the Coalition Debate

Slightly adapting Dr. Johnson, we can say that the prospect of political execution concentrates the collective mind wonderfully—on the elementary need to survive. This has been the preoccupation of the Labour Party, especially its leadership, in the wake of its catastrophically poor performance in the 1983 general election. And since for Labour, as for every other primarily parliamentary party, survival means essentially electoral success, this has meant—for the leadership—subordinating every other priority to the drive to win the next general election. After three years, how well is it succeeding in pursuit of its chosen strategy and objective? Although the maximum permitted lifetime of any British parliament is five years, it has become very unusual for a government to continue its own life in office for so long. Prime ministers have for more than thirty years now exercised without hesitation the discretionary power given to them under the unwritten British ‘constitution’ to choose what they hope and calculate is the most advantageous moment to themselves and their party to ‘go to the country’.

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