Sunday, 8 June 2008

Labour is getting it right on key issues

Today's Sunday Telegraph poll may confirm the dismal findings of earlier recent polls. But within today's Sunday papers, there is also a very clear sign that the government is getting it right on three of the most important policy areas.

First, the government is right to want to have the precautionary maximum 42-day detention period. Jacqui Smith gave a characteristically fluent account of the measure this morning. But its best defence comes from Matthew D'Ancona in the Sunday Telegraph. And the measure is supported by a majority of the public.

Second, Alan Johnson delivers a cracking case for his plans for more extensive GP surgeries and polyclinics in the Observer. The idea that it is worse for patients to be able to get an X-Ray or ECG on site, or to get minor injuries dealt with locally rather than hanging about for four hours in A&E, is such common sense that once delivered, patients will wonder what the fuss was about.

And third, the Government's plan to push for a rapid turnaround of underperforming schools with the support of successful heads and a big extension of Academies is exactly what is neededd for such schools. To those who say 'the government should have done this sooner', ministers can point to the fact that where one in two schools used to get 30% or fewer five good GCSEs, the figure is now one in five. But one reason why this policy is superior is its use of floor targets, one of the most successful policies of the last ten years, accompanied by structural reform.

What these three policies also have in common is that they are opposed by the Conservatives. Aside from Lord Tebbit and Ann Widdecombe, the 42 days are publicly opposed by the party. Tory health policy is being shamefully written by the BMA. And on education, the Tories would scrap targets, even when they are so patently a lever for improvement - and for pushing the sort of structural reform with which, at least, they share Labour's ambition.

The more the government can show the sense of purpose evident today, the more likely it is that they can recover their poll position. If, in the process, the bareness of Cameron's policy cupboard is also exposed, that would be no bad thing.

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