Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Labour must now offer clever opposition

Gordon Brown has resigned with dignity. The progressive coalition was not to be. Soon we will have the details of the LibTory government deal. But for Labour, if it is to rebuild for the next election, now is a time for clever opposition not knee-jerk oppositionism. John Prescott may be relishing a fight. Those who find themselves leading the party in the months ahead need to worry more about the voters' real concerns.

The biggest failure of the Brown years was the way in which some of his lieutenants undermined Labour's reform agenda, purely because it had been developed by Tony Blair. The result is that on education, particularly, the Tories adopted our policies and added a bit of extra radicalism to them. They were ably helped in the process of pretending otherwise by the decision to ditch an education department, sideline academies independence and focus on bureaucratic safeguarding procedures ahead of school reform. This approach not only undermined Labour's education record, it blunted Labour's continued radicalism on the NHS and its successes in fighting crime.

It is vital that Labour regains the initiative for policy radicalism in opposition. That should mean a wholesale policy review to develop approaches for a more economically constrained age and for tomorrow's Britain, including political and democratic reform. It also means that there should be a clever approach to opposition, strategically opposing on issues where it is right to do so but regaining a reputation for forward thinking in the process and supporting the new government where it is right to do so.

When it comes to selecting Labour's next leader, these must be foremost in the mind of the candidates and those of us who vote for them. We need a leader who can craft an approach to opposition and a plan for government that moves beyond New Labour but which doesn't ignore its lessons that allowed us to have 13 years in government. The person most likely to offer that balance is David Miliband.

The new leader does start with a better base than might be expected. We are stronger in London and other cities in local government than for some time. We still have a healthy 258 MPs. We have much new blood and a stronger group of women and ethnic minority members. This is an opportunity for Labour to renew itself. But it is also a moment of real danger, when some may feel we can afford to relax into eighties comfort zones. Which direction we take will determine how long we are out of power this time.

This posting also appears at Public Finance.

1 comment:

Michael said...

Conor may be adept at writing impressive journalese but his comments have little semblance to voter reality. Conor's key word is "radicalism". Apparently, Labour lost because they abandoned or diluted Blair's radical approach to Education, the NHS and Crime, therefore, to gain the initiative, Labour has to be RADICAL. By "radical" Conor really means "different". In other words, 'Labour's election policies have not been "radical/different" enough to get them re-elected therefore they need to have a wholesale policy review if they are to regain power. I have serious concerns about this interpretation of Labour's defeat.
Firstly, I do not accept that Labour lost on policy or achievement. Certainly, aspects of policy could have been better thought-out, presented and implemented (in which case, blame individual Ministers) but do not blame policy. Any objective view on Labour policies on Education, the NHS and Policing since 1997 would agree that progress and improvement has been substantial. What Tory or Lib Dem policies, Conor, were better tha Labour?
The reality is that the electorate are not interested in "radicalism". What they want is "improvement" - improvement in their standard of living, improvement in their children's education, improvement in the health service they receive, improvement in the policing in their neighbourhood and improvement in employment opportunities.
I believe you are wrong to suggest that Labour needs to radically change to address these voter aspirations.