How many political parties can dance on the head of a pin? The answer, it seems, is one. In Britain and the US, the opposition parties are beginning to discover that there simply isn't room for both them and their rivals on the narrow political platforms they have chosen to contest. Without enough space to shift their feet, they are being pushed ever closer to the edge of oblivion.
While the Conservatives are left with no choice but to steal back the clothes New Labour stole from them, the Democrats' refusal to step off the pinhead and find another platform is, at first sight, mysterious. It is plainly not a response to the demands of the electorate: indeed, they seem to be wildly out of touch with some of its main concerns. The tens of millions of US voters opposed to a war with Iraq were, until he died in a mysterious plane crash two weeks ago, represented by just one senator, Paul Wellstone. A survey in July suggested that 76% of American voters would like to see corporations forced to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions, while another poll, in June, found that 67% of the electorate believed that energy conservation, fuel efficiency and the development of solar technology were the best means of solving the impending US energy crisis. Yet Democratic congressmen have helped the Republicans to obstruct global efforts to tackle climate change. The Democrats have failed to respond decisively to the widespread public anger about tax cuts for the super rich, corporate corruption and the privatisation of state pensions.
It is true that Bush was assisted by the voters' tendency, when faced with an external threat, to cling to their government. But the Democrats, as even they now acknowledge, are largely to blame for their own destruction in last week's mid-term elections. As party strategist James Carville lamented, "we've got to just stand for something. No one made the case."