I could be wrong on this, but it seems to me that in the decade that followed 1997 there were two lessons that the governing party and opposition parties left each other, and for some reason, it's only the opposition parties that have actually taken the lessons on board yet, and I stress yet. Those lessons are as follows.
1: Time in Government is limited. If you sit on your arse and waste it you'll never change anything. If you talk the talk on reform you have to walk the walk too. The next election will be with you in a heartbeat, don't squander your opportunity. This lesson was left by the Messiah himself, Tony Blair.
2: Opposition is not about opposing for the sake of opposing. It is about judging when you should support the Government and when you shouldn't correctly. If you don't get it right you'll end being painted as loonies on the wrong side of argument screaming in the wind like Lear. This lesson was left by the Tories to Labour.
It's fair to say I think, that the Coalition has learned Blair lesson. In fact, it looks like it is indelibly etched on their collective mind given the flurry of policies coming out from Whitehall in the past week. Whether you agree with the policies or not, you can;t deny the pace being set, and I'd say that pace is a direct result of Blair's own acknowledgement that he wished he'd done more sooner.
Unlike Blair, the Coalition has not come to power and continued acting like its in Opposition. Nor does it look like they're engaged in a permanent election campaign. To use the cliche, the Coalition has hit the ground running and is getting on with the business of governing, for better or worse is yet to be known of course, but they are "doing things".
However, has Labour learned the lesson left to them by the Tories? With just a cursory glance one might conclude not. You see, I'd say it took Labour about two terms to actually get themselves comfortable in Government, and by comfortable, I mean they got to the point where they felt they had become the "natural party of Government", and right now, they're still in that mindset and so are taking a literal view of what Opposition is about.
The Tories were of course in the same position when they lost in 1997, and that sudden switch from being able to say something and get something done, to merely being someone with an opinion who was not in power, was a shock to the system. It was why they didn't do Opposition well because they still had a mindset that was in Government, it took them a decade to snap out of it.
Will it take Labour a decade to get their head around Opposition again? It might. There are many of its MPs who know no other way of life than being in the governing party after all, which is probably why, right now they seem to be opposing for the sake of opposing.
Thus they're opposing the AV referendum on the basis that there is a proposal to make constituencies have an equal number of voters and end the insanity that means Labour need only 2.7% more votes to secure an overall majority whilst the Tories need a margin of 11.2% (source). Labour say that the Coalition is gerrymandering, which seems a tad ironic when they're essentially saying that they want to maintain the inherently unfair advantage that they themselves have.
Likewise, in response to Iain Duncan-Smith's proposals on welfare reform, the jerking knee is screaming about cost and opposing the plans even though the plans would mean people on out of work and on benefits would actually see themselves with more money in their pockets if they went into work than they have under the current system. You can't really get much more "progressive" than that can you? Yet opposition for opposition's sake has kicked in.
My guess is that simply opposing rather than opposing and offering a coherent alternative will last for at least another year, but it could be longer. At some point someone will realise that the Tories and Lib Dems learned their lesson from Labour in power, and it's time for Labour to learn the lesson bequeathed to them.
Then again, they could just implode in an internal civil war that sees the Loony Left comeback - which would be fun to watch huh?