The 'Year in British Politics' meeting at the British Politics Group of the American Political Science Association is always good value and this year's event in Boston Ma. was no exception. The reviewers were Sir Ivor Crewe, about to take up his duties as master of University College, Oxford and Phil Cowley, who will shortly be joining the Treasury on a secondment.
Both speakers saw little hope for a New Labour recovery. Sir Ivor saw an analogy with the situation John Major faced in 1995-7, although Major was more popular than his party while the contrary is the case for Brown. The economy did well in this period, and the economy could well experience a recovery by the next election, but it would be a voteless recovery for New Labour.
Phil Cowley suggested that if the plane was heading for the ground and the pilot seemed to have lost control, one might as well give the air hostess a chance (I do not think this was a reference to Harriet Harman). However, Phil went on to point out, this would mean a contest in which all New Labour's divisions would be exposed to public view, followed by strong political pressure for an early election.
Sir Ivor pointed out that Dave Cameron had accepted most of the New Labour settlement - well funded public services, the minimum wage and tax credits etc. - and in practice policies would differ little from those under New Labour. There would be changes in stamp duty and inheritance tax, and no doubt other changes in personal taxation.
One of the most difficult issues for Dave to handle will be relations with the European Union with Phil Cowley pointing out that Europhiles have virtually disappeared from the Conservative Party (there may be five left). The party is now divided between Euroscpetics who want to re-negotiate the relationship and 'better off outers'. Dave will be under pressure to get a better deal from Brussels for Britain and that will not be easy.
The Conservatives are unlikely to take many more seats in Scotland and will in effect have the English Parliament some of them call for. But wily operator Alex Salmond would no doubt make use of this situation to claim that the Conservatives had no legtimate mandate north of the border in an effort to boost support for his independence referendum.