Monday, 5 May 2008

Gordon's May Day blues

There can be no disguising the awfulness of Thursday's results. Gordon Brown faces a mountain of a task to restore confidence in his government and morale in his party. But it is not the impossibility that some commentators believe. However, it does demand some basic changes. For a start, we need fewer wonkish interviews like those given on Sunday, and more genuine discourse with the lives of real people. Then, we need to have a much clearer sense of policy purposefulness. It was interesting that last Thursday's BBC election night poll showed an improvement in government ratings on the NHS since 2007, coinciding with a victory over the BMA on an issue that matters to patients and the capitulation of the Tories to the doctors' trade union. Brown needs to set clear goals in other areas that matter to people's lives and bring real purpose back to the government. And, finally, we need a much clearer exposure of the Tories' policy void(the NHS is not the only area devoid of practical policy alternatives). This will not be enough of itself: the economy is going to matter above all. It helps that the fundamentals - growth, employment, inflation - remain broadly favourable, but the cost of food and fuel are biting and it is unlikely that the government's fortunes will change until they start to ease. But what is most certainly not needed is a mad lurch to the prescriptions of Compass or the hard left: down that road lies certain defeat. These are not easy times for Labour: but the party must hold its nerve.

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