A few points about Labour's huge by-election defeat in Glasgow East.
It's surprising that political commentators didn't see this coming. The Politics Home Index panel of commentators, for example, overwhelmingly expected Labour to hold on. (I am a member of this panel.) Possibly this reflected the history of the SNP in by-elections. The party has only ever won five of these, and then with high-profile candidates such as Margo MacDonald (Glasgow Govan in 1973) and Jim Sillars (the same seat in 1988). In yesterday's by-election, Labour had the stronger candidate, yet she was unable to withstand the popular hostility towards the Government. The turnout was surprisingly high, at 42 per cent, and anti-Labour feeling coalesced around the candidate best placed to defeat Labour.
Politics is no science, and parties' fortunes are not pre-determined (other than in Zimbabwe, of course). But when things start unravelling for a Government, its ability to change the terms of political debate is severely limited. Labour will lose the next general election, and lose it big. The Tories, who did well in Glasgow East to beat the Lib Dems, are not a popular brand but they are now a decontaminated one. Note, for example, that the veteran right-wing MP for Macclesfield, Nicholas Winterton, who knowingly broke parliamentary rules on expenses, claims he is being forced out by the party leadership. I hope this is true, and it's at least clear that Winterton's is not the voice of modern Conservatism. (Winterton was, incidentally, a staunch defender of the anti-communist credentials of the apartheid regime in South Africa - which speaks for itself.)
The most destructive elements on the Labour side, meanwhile, are giving unsolicited advice that would be disastrous for the remaining credibility of the Government. Labour remains the only serious vehicle for moderate left-wing politics in Britain. That was demonstrated by the party's eventual recovery from the schism that its then extremist policies caused in the 1980s. Gordon Brown is not up to the job of Prime Minister, but it is open to him to protect the legacy of his predecessor.
Tony Blair's reforms of the party, in organisation and ideology, were inadequate but well-directed. Labour is not a socialist party: it is a party of incremental social improvement that has done useful things in welfare policy, and in creating a framework of rules in economic management. Labour will be in opposition, probably for a long time. The last thing it should do now is abandon the approach of its most successful leader ever, and thereby ensure its consignment to the wilderness.