Three things, in particular, strike me about the situation.
Firstly, it exposes the obvious, but generally denied, fact that the Labour Party is no longer a party which espouses a set of ideals and aims to build a society based around them; it is in fact a group of people who seek to win elections in order to gain political power for themselves. It isn’t about progressive ideals, whatever the founding principles (and some deluded members) of the party might say, it’s about one particular bunch of ‘professional’ politicians gaining power, and being prepared to say and do whatever they think will achieve that aim.
It’s a point which some of those in Wales spouting on about ‘progressive alliances’ would do well to remember. The differences of opinion which the statement by the party’s leader have exposed are not, in most cases, differences about what is right; they’re more a case of disagreement about the best way of achieving that narrower objective of winning power (or, even more narrowly in some cases, winning the party leadership).
Secondly, the later retraction by the acting leader who said that the final policy will be decided by the new leader exposes how undemocratic the Labour Party has become. The members can choose a leader, but that is the limit of their influence on policy. Detailed policy will be decided at the whim of whoever they elect. And whilst there’s enough experience within the party for them to know that what people will say in a leadership election can turn out to be a very poor guide to what they’ll say afterwards, I’m sure that for many members of that party, wishful thinking will continue to triumph over hard experience.
And the third thing is perhaps the most important of all - and not just for Labour. Any party which allows the limits of political debate to be set by its opponents will eventually end up sounding like little more than a poor copy of those opponents. The statement on not opposing welfare cuts may be one of the crassest examples, but it’s far from being the only one. Think immigration for instance. On issue after issue, Labour has allowed the Tories and their media friends to move the Overton window in one direction, and has meekly accepted the result, when any seriously ‘progressive’ movement would be trying to move it in the opposite direction.
For the UK, the result is that the poorest and the dispossessed find themselves unrepresented, and those opposing Government policies find themselves represented in parliament by an opposition which seems disinclined to oppose. And in Wales, the potential alternative opposition still seems to regard it as inevitable that the UK’s unopposing opposition will remain the leading political force with which they can, at best, hope to form some sort of post-election alliance in the Assembly. In the real world, it looks increasingly likely that the main beneficiaries will be the Tories – and UKIP.
It isn’t a pretty prospect.