It's a tricky time to be a Labour supporter. What with one thing and another the fire in the belly has been damped down a little, doubt is creeping in where certainty once held sway and preparatory teeth-gritting is already taking its toll on the nation's dental health. As a public service, therefore, I've prepared this handy guide for anyone (else) wondering what the hell the point of it all is. It'd probably be better done in flow-chart form, but that's the kind of presentational jiggery-pokery for which I have zero aptitude, so you'll have to cope with the Choose Your Own Adventure style instead:
1. In general, do you believe that the ideas represented by Labour are better for the country than the ideas represented by the other parties?
If Yes, go to 2. If No, vote accordingly.
2. Right now, do you believe that Labour ideas are better for the country as things stand than other parties' ideas?
If Yes, go to 3. If No, go to 5.
3. Do you believe that Labour, as currently led, can make these ideas happen?
If Yes, vote accordingly. If No, Go to 4.
4. Is there a plausible Labour leadership that you believe would make these ideas happen?
If Yes, go to 5. If No, go to 6.
5. Do you believe that the changes you want can happen in time to make a difference in the election?
If Yes, remember that it's not personal, just business. If No, go to 6.
6. Do you think parties are better placed to reinvent themselves in power than in opposition?
(I'll admit this is a little crude, and arguably elides a distinction between the party's ideas and the party's leadership. But I think that these are broadly the questions anyone who would describe themselves as a Labour supporter needs to ask.)
The way I see it, Labour needs to choose between two basic strategies. The first says that this is a good election to lose: let the Tories do the heavy lifting for a while, and get tarnished by office; meanwhile, Labour should regroup, rebuild and rethink. Then go into the next election cleaned, polished and fired up. The second says that the job of political parties is to win power; that even if Labour aren't perfect they're better than the alternative*; that the act of winning votes will, at this point, necessarily mean doing a fair chunk of reinvention, one way or the other; thus this election, like all elections, is a good election to win.
Tempting though the first strategy is, hoping for your time in the wilderness is rank defeatism; if you can't handle both being in power and doing serious thinking about your ideals, aims and strategies, you don't belong in politics.
* If you don't believe this then, however temporarily, you have ceased to be a Labour supporter.