There are welcome signs of a greater coherence in Labour's message, as the flirtation with 'core vote' defeatism appears to have been buried. Alastair Darling's weekend interview with the Times, where he made no bones about the extent of the cuts needed, followed an excellent but overshadowed speech by Peter Mandelson on the economy. Gordon Brown's speech to the PLP today, focusing on the theme of aspiration, signals an end to the rather silly pre-Christmas flirtations with a core vote strategy, and daft talk of 'class war'. With Ed Balls determinedly on message this morning, there is hope that the party can show the focus it was starting to exhibit before it was so rudely interrupted last week.
However, the new themes need to be backed up in clear policy. Announcements need to better linked to those themes than today's laptops-for-all plan, which sounded bizarre in these austere times (even if it is just a rollout of a 2008 announcement). There must be serious policy linked to the theme of aspiration, not an effort to bolt it on to anything going. As James Purnell argues, in a thoughtful piece in today's Guardian, we need to ensure that the manifesto has the policies that express today's realities, whether in city regulation, a living wage, electoral reform or making school choice more tangible to parents. The strategy and policies must flow from the realities that are being properly acknowledged today.