The reaction from some Tories to the Labour win at Glenrothes on the message boards of the Guardian and elsewhere has been interesting. Many have rubbished the result saying in effect "How can holding onto a seat - previously considered rock-solid Labour - be considered a triumph?" You would never guess that Labour had been in power for eleven and a half years and was in it's third term, and that by-election wins in such circumstances were unprecedented.
They are acting as though Labour has only been in power for about 17 months, and that this is a major blow as the majority was a bit down from the general election! I could dismiss this as mere spin from them, but I can also sort of see where they are coming from. Because it doesn't feel like Labour has been in power for eleven and a half years, the Labour government feels newer than that.
I think a great part of it is down to the Brown government having a very different feel to the Blair government. Only four members of the old Blair government have survived - Brown, Darling, Straw and Mandelson, and of these, Darling previously didn't have a national presence at all, but now he's on our screens almost daily, which makes him a genuinely fresh personality that is dominating the government, and Brown too is a bigger presence than he used to be (under Blair, Brown only seemed to emerge twice a year at budget time). Indeed the travails of the government in the last year fits with the scenario of a new government taking over and struggling to cope with the transition, in the way that Clinton struggled in his first year (teething troubles that Bush suffered too and which Obama hopes to avoid). And the new bounce happened when they all got to grips with their jobs in time to handle the crisis. If they were newbies in 2007, they are not anymore. They got tested in the crucible and came through with flying colours. They are now experienced in crisis management.
An illustration of the change in flavour came today when Darling summoned the banks to scold them into passing on the interest rate cut to their customers. Such government activism was unthinkable in Blair's day. The Brown-Darling government feels more activist, more protective of the little person, more to the left of the Blair government. It's becoming clearer and clearer that the Brown-Darling administration is quite different to what went before.
What does this mean for British politics? Part of the reason John Major got elected in 1992 was because the public had their change of government in the form of him replacing Thatcher, and didn't want another one so soon. If the Brown-Darling government continues to offer a change in direction and continues to stay on top of events, the public might again conclude there is no need for another change in 2009/10, especially if the Tories resist going left with the zeitgeist and try instead to cling to the Reagan-Thatcher settlement. Just a thought.