Tony Blair used to joke in weeks filled with bad news that this was the Government's worst week since the last worst week. And it is always good to bring perspective in the midst of the sort of media frenzy around the Government at the moment. There is no doubt that ministers got the national mood wrong over the Gurkhas (though I still haven't heard David Cameron or Nick Clegg providing the costings for what they propose).
As for the MPs expenses saga, Gordon Brown may not have got second homes reform, but he has got big changes to London MPs' and ministers' claims; if anyone has looked bad in this saga, it is the MPs themselves. Moreover, his proposal for a flat rate linked to attendance is far more likely to work in practice than anything else I've heard, even if it upsets newspaper editors who may find themselves bereft of 'snouts in trough' copy. Brown did well with his Pakistan agenda. Britain is leaving Basra in a stronger economic position than before, a fact reported prominently in BBC coverage. And on the flu pandemic, ministers look prepared and ready, so much so that even the tabloids can't find anything to criticise beyond the delayed launch of a 'flu line.'
But much of this is beside the point. The week's events give a feeling that the Government is drifting, and this sense of drift which started with the dismal McBride antics and continued through the Budget, shows no sign of coming to an end. Charles Clarke and Bob Marshall-Andrews weighing into the PM in his time of trouble are no great surprise. But the PM would do well to heed some of the things being said by my ex-boss David Blunkett in a speech today.
Part of the speech is classic David: a plea for new localism and modern forms of self-help through micro-credit, and consumer rather than producer-based approaches, all of which could help government reconnect with people. But he is also warning against ‘turning the clock back’ and the “siren voices” who want to re-run the modernisation debates which took place in the Labour Party in the 1990s. “The old battles are over and the need for visionary action is self-evident. So talk of going back to the past, of wiping out the last two decades, is dangerous," he says.
David is right. The government needs to craft a strong message which explains the huge differences that have already been made to the public services, but shows that when it comes to ensuring the people have the choices and standards they expect, it is better placed to deliver even in a time of austerity than the Conservatives. Labour must show that it is still the party of modernisation. Next week, when Gordon Brown speaks on education, would be a good time to start getting that message across.