Six things Gordon Brown can do for Labour
(in ascending order of difficulty)
First: agree to pre-election TV debates with the other party leaders. Not having them looks cowardly. TV debates will counteract voter apathy, which will hit Labour worse than the other parties. And, however he performs in them, debates will focus voters’ minds on the key issue of whether they want to replace Gordon Brown with David Cameron. Of course there will have to be separate debates in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Nick Clegg should be admitted to all the English debates: any Lib Dem boost will hit the Tories harder than us.
Second: cut out any appeals, direct or by implication, to Britain’s wartime spirit. This dismal cliché is traditionally associated with third-rate governments. Very few voters can now remember the war and those that do will not see Gordon as another Winston Churchill.
Third: stop saying that Britain will pull out of recession faster than its competitors. No international survey suggests this and there is far too much counter-evidence available each day to voters. If the British economy is really stronger than everyone else’s why is the pound falling? Millions of Britons travel overseas each year, on business or pleasure: they see many things which work better than they do in Britain (not least airports and public transport) – they tend not to see the things which are worse. Thousands of Britons have migrated overseas to get a better life. Most are still voters and they describe their life to other voters who are family and friends.
Fourth: Gordon should admit frankly that there were some errors and failures in his economic record. A few weeks ago he refused to make any such admission in an Observer interview. Many voters will have found his reply arrogant, even delusional. They will remember that Gordon took all the credit for the British economy when it seemed to be doing well – now he wants to avoid any responsibility when it is near collapse. If he cannot admit a simple truth about the economic past, it will undermine belief in anything he says about the economic present and the economic future. It also undermines his moral stature – and frankly, he is a Prime Minister who likes to parade his conscience to the British people. In every other walk of life leaders are expected to take responsibility for everything that happens on their watch, the bad and the ugly as well as the good. Voters expect the same of politicians: they reward those who meet that standard and despise those who do not.
If Gordon could admit to some mistakes (and I’ve got a little list) he would re-establish both his economic competence and his moral authority. He would also frame the debate on his economic record – forcing the opposition and the media to discuss the issues of his choice.
Fifth: provide some clear and plausible reason for not nationalizing the banks outright. The government has already given them an effective guarantee of unlimited support – without which they would be worthless. But they are still failing to do what the country needs – providing basic finance for business and home-buyers. And we still do not know the full extent of their liabilities, at home or abroad. Since we have given the banks a blank cheque, we should own them and control their behaviour.
Sixth: provide some clear vision of a different future when and if the present crisis is over. How are we going to make our living as a country? For ten years we relied on financial services and house price inflation to generate growth and activity in the economy and provide tax revenues to finance spending on public services. That idea seemed to work for a long time but ultimately it crashed. Are we going back there? If the country gives Gordon another lease of power will we face the same sort of crisis in five or ten years’ time – when we are still paying back the debts from the present crisis?