Even that ultra-optimist, Polly Toynbee, has now conceded in The Guardian that the Labour Party cannot avoid defeat at the next election.  Bizarrely though, her advice to the party is to replace Gordon Brown with Blairite front-man Alan Johnson as leader so that the defeat does not turn into a rout.  She certainly has a better grasp of the deep disenchantment and anger that has spread far beyond Labour’s core supporters than the party.  In fact the party’s denial of its problems despite the evidence (is Labour now third or worse in opinion polls?), and its inability to offer anything but more of the same, is uncannily similar to John Major’s conservatives before their crushing defeat in 1997.

Even if, as Toynbee is now pleading for, the Labour party did change leader and ditch some of its more right wing policies (in fact it is more likely to push ahead with these until its fingers are prised off the offices of state) it is probably not going to change its fate a great deal.  Public anger at MPs expenses is being fanned by New Labour’s erstwhile friends in the media, many of which are now looking forward to a Cameron-led Tory government.  And who, outside the small circle of career politicians and their hangers-on, will be willing to go out and campaign for a continuation of New Labour?  The party has been systematically reduced to a weakened, hollowed-out shell; the trade unions have been ignored; left and libertarian opinion has been treated with contempt; rising unemployment and economic meltdown is making everyone except the rich feel insecure and threatened.

So what will be the legacy left us by the crash of New Labour and the general disengagement with the main parties?  While there will be some considerable satisfaction for many of us in seeing Labour’s hubris punished it may be short-lived if, as seems more than likely, nemesis involves a boost for the populist right.  The failure of Labour and the weakness of the left will allow the BNP to fill the political space, with the Tories more than willing to catch up (don’t expect to hear much more of Cameron’s caring social conscience).  Unless there is a swift renewal of the left to contest the far-right we can look forward to local and national politics being dominated by the brutal and nasty.

A renewed left would surely be more concerned to act to defend the rights and jobs of working people, to build support for an alternative vision of society to both the boosters of global capitalism and the neo-fascists.  However disillusioned people might have become over the last twenty years, I suspect quetism will be a much harder option in the future.