Losing is not such a good idea
Labour having clawed its way back into contention in the General Election, the Guardian has started publishing articles suggesting it would be a good thing for Labour's own sake to lose the election: http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/09/election-labour-lose-gordon-brown
I can just about get the argument - it runs something along the lines that if you have to lose an election, lose the one when difficult decisions need to be taken to tackle the deficit.
But this assumes that the decisions Labour would take are as bad as the ones the Tories would. If you believe that there's no difference between the timing and depth of the measures to be taken between the parties then there's no point having an election, we might as well let Treasury civil servants run the country.
And if there is a difference between the economic, fiscal and public spending policies of Labour and the Tories, someone other than Labour MPs losing their seats pays a price if the Tories get in: users of public services, particularly the poorest and most vulnerable and dependent on the state.
So we might fancy four years off from tough decisions and a bit of battery-recharging and powerless feel-good ranting from opposition, but it's the folk we were set up to represent who'll pay the real price. I think it was Australian PM Bob Hawke who said "there may only be an inch between a Labor government's policies and a coalition government's policies but if you live in that inch it's an important inch." And this time round in the UK the policy gap is not just an inch, it's a country mile. I could feel half-relaxed about a Tory government if Cameron had followed his early strategy of being "heir to Blair", seizing the political centre ground and building on our legacy. But he has reverted to being "son of Thatcher" with a hardline economic policy (dressed up with a few photoshoots with arctic seals) intent not on building on Labour's legacy but on turning the clock back to 1983.
Labour governments need to be for the difficult times not just the economically easy ones. In fact it is even more important that a progressive, socialist morality and sense of political priorities is applied to tough choices about what services to protect when money is tight as it is for it to be applied when the Treasury coffers are bursting.
We know the difference between the approach of the Tories in the recessions of the 1930s and 1980s and our approach in the last two years. We can't leave our communities to their far from tender mercies.
If Labour wants to ever create the kind of social democratic hegemony our sister party in Sweden for instance achieved, we need to maintain power for a generation or two, through any turbulence and tough decisions that are out there, winning people's respect for doing the right thing whatever we are confronted with, not as Philippe Legrain suggests, taking a break when the going gets tough.
Even from a completely partisan point of view his argument doesn't stack up. To lose and avoid the next four years in power we need to lose many MPs. Every MP we lose weakens party organisation and is a more difficult seat to win back than it would be to defend as incumbents.