Tuesday 9 October 2007

That vision thing

Yesterday was not the best day of Gordon Brown's life. An uncomfortable press conference, a sneering media and a revitalised opposition combined to undo his carefully cultivated image of the summer. However, a new Populus poll in today's Times suggests that he retains strong underlying support: Labour is two points ahead of the Tories on 40-38%. The conference season may have strengthened the confidence of Tory supporters in the economic wisdom of their leaders, but it has had little impact on other voters. Brown and Alastair Darling remain well ahead on economic trust: Darling must reinforce that impression with his pre-budget report and spending review announcements today. But all this won't be enough in the medium to long-term. It is to be hoped that Brown has now had his share of mini-disasters. So he needs to demonstrate strength on the public services. That means more than keeping the basic Blair reforms; he must embrace them as his own. In his first weeks, Brown threw a few bones to anti-academy backbenchers, but as Fiona Millar demonstrates in today's Guardian, those campaigners won't be satisfied without abolishing Academies - the most successful sustained effort to tackle school failure in decades. Brown should ignore these siren voices, and talk up Academies. It isn't difficult: their improvements continue to outpace other schools, and their structures present a readymade picture of progress for the voters. By all means continue with efforts to boost the 3Rs too, but don't underplay Academies. Equally, Brown must become a stronger reformer on the NHS and police: after all, he faces the charge that as Chancellor, he poured money into pay and staffing with little return on productivity. So he is right to personalise these services, and demand weekend surgeries. But he must be bolder in saying where he believes things should be ten years hence. That should be the vision which, as he himself says, he now has the freedom to explain.

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