Come home to Labour?
Now that the ‘snowstorm in tea cup’ coup is over Gordon Brown can use the coming weeks and months to more clearly define the dividing lines between Labour and the Tories. In politics expectations are everything: keep them low and most people stay reasonably content but raise them too high, and you run the risk of disappointing everyone. Gordon Brown learnt this – to his cost – when he teased the public with the promise of an early election in the autumn of 2007 and then cancelled it when he realised that it was too big – and unnecessary – a gamble.
Over two years later and Gordon Brown and the Labour party are bruised, battered but, and it is an important but, not yet out for the count. The past two years have seen the government stumble between one bad news story after another – be it the loss of the income tax details of 25 million people, the 10p tax fiasco the loss of the ‘safe’ seat of Crewe or the awful ‘McBride’ affair. Yet the financial downturn, which could have been catastrophic for the British economy, presented Brown with the opportunity to lead from the front and to set the perimeters for the next election.
Labour strategists should use the election ‘phoney war’ period to portray Brown as a man of strong convictions and will attempt to shape the election debate around the virtues of fairness, strength and trust. They should seek to paint Gordon as the man who still wants to make poverty history, the politician who is ‘not flash, just Gordon.’ The question is: will it make any difference? Well it just might because the truth is that no matter how they try to re-package themselves, the Tories see inequality as natural and inevitable and Labour sees it as abhorrent and avoidable. I have no doubt that Gordon’s appeal for ‘fairness’ will strike a chord with many former Labour voters who may now feel that they have been given the green light to ‘come home’ to Labour.
The surge of support for Brown from Cabinet Ministers and MPs following the failed Hoon/Hewitt putsch will give him some well needed breathing space. He should therefore take the opportunity he has been given to rethink the direction and the very purpose of new Labour. For example he should reconsider the arguments for the windfall tax on the energy companies, act to end the anomalies in NHS provision between England, Wales and Scotland and make clear the government’s preferential option for the poor. History shows that the public trusts leaders who have the courage to lead. It is surely no coincidence that, in recent history, when the government has acted boldly on issues as varied as debt cancellation, the introduction of the congestion charge or smoking bans, public support has quickly crystallised behind it. If Labour is to achieve a fourth term then its best prospects lie not in appealing to what it has done, not in defending the status quo but rather in campaigning against ugly realities of health and education inequalities and showing why these warrant further state action.
So come on Gordon, seize the moment and put end to the era of fuzzy politics and show the nation that what divides Labour from the Tories is far greater than any of the marginal policies on which the parties are united.