In the run up to the 2010 general election there was a strand of punditry chatter about how it would be a good election to lose, because the cuts which any government would introduce (and remember Labour’s Chancellor, Alistair Darling, was talking about Labour making bigger cuts than Thatcher) would be so politically painful that being in opposition for a term of office would work out best for a party.
This sort of clever-clever win-by-losing argument often pops up in politics and its real weakness is illustrated by its timing. It makes its showing on the punditry stage before, rather than after, exiting office. Hindsight banishes rather than commends it.
It can seem an attractive argument to a tired party facing grim policy choices, and that attraction is a part of the story as to why we ended up with a Lib Dem-Tory deal in 2010 rather than a Lib Dem-Labour one. The basic mathematics of the House of Commons was the dominant factor but a little player on the side were those Labour MPs who took to the media to denounce the idea of any deal with the Lib Dems because at the dog end of the longest Labour administration ever they just didn’t have the hunger to want to keep power any more.
But now, a few years on how many Labour supporters are happy to have been out of office? Precious few because whilst being out of office may physically rest and refresh politicians, it’s no magic solution for a party’s problems. Nor is it a simple way of side-stepping the difficult problems of government for the tougher things are for a government the more an opposition is put on the spot about whether it too has plausible policies for tough times.
Enforced rest at the hands of the electorate is at best only a small silver lining to a larger political cloud.