Leading Article: We've seen the caution, Mr Blair. Now where is the radicalism?

WE MUST be cautious, Tony Blair said last week, to be radical. With great respect, Mr Blair, what utter nonsense. In order to be polite, we must be rude. We have seen the caution, but where is the radicalism?

There was a burst of constitutional radicalism right at the start of this Government, with independence for the Bank of England and devolution to Scotland and Wales. Then what?

What happened to freedom of information? Smothered. What happened to a fairer voting system? The long grass. What happened, above all, to our nation's destiny at the heart of Europe? A joint pamphlet with Gerhard Schroder which read as if it had been badly translated into German and then back again - before Mr Schroder took the Third Way to electoral meltdown. As for the single European currency; ah yes, well, there are conditions and... mumble, mumble.

Of course, Mr Blair's record to date is impressive and many good things have been done. But simply reciting the mantra of higher Child Benefit, the minimum wage and prudent economic management is not enough to carry a government into the future, to keep it one step ahead of voter disillusionment. The truth about the war against poverty is that it was slow to start and haphazard in strategy. The truth about the economy is that Gordon Brown inherited a golden legacy. That he managed to preserve it rather than throw it away is a huge achievement, but it is essentially a defensive one.

It is the defensiveness at the core of Mr Blair's Government that could be its undoing, and which Mr Blair should address in his conference speech tomorrow.

For all his attempts to portray himself as a daring moderniser, there is a sense in which New Labour has been fighting yesterday's battles. It is paradoxical that Mr Blair and his clique, who criticised the choice of John Smith as the leader to fight the previous election, should have ended up fighting the last war themselves. Mr Brown was right to be prudent, but did not need to be so rigid in sticking to Conservative spending limits in the first two years. It cannot have taken two years to work out where in the education and health services targeted extra spending could start to pay early dividends.

And now, says Mr Blair, he must avoid doing anything exciting because he must stay focused on winning the next election with a working majority, which would be a historic first for the Labour Party. So it would, but it must be said that a Labour win at the next election does not look, at this juncture, like a particularly tall order. The prospect raises the question of what precisely Mr Blair wants to do with what was effectively a double mandate granted to him at the last election - it was then that he was effectively given 10 years in which to go "on and on". He could have done what he liked, but what he liked to do turned out to be to sit tight.

So it is that his third conference as Prime Minister opens with speculation about the rift between him and his Chancellor.

What Mr Blair called the "titanic feud" between Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson, the full extent of which Donald Macintyre first revealed in our pages, has lent the early Blair Government something of the air of the late Thatcher government. As the rift between Mrs Thatcher and Nigel Lawson manifested itself, first in the dispute over her economic adviser, Sir Alan Walters, so New Labour already seems to have instability built in, right at its apex.

The only way for Mr Blair to overcome that is by regaining a sense of momentum.

On a wide range of issues, Mr Blair's instincts are not forward looking. On reform of the House of Lords, on the environment, on immigration and refugees, and on drugs, New Labour is behind the curve of history. On drugs, yesterday's plans for testing criminals and tougher bail conditions seem to be tackling the symptoms, whereas Charles Kennedy's call for a debate on cannabis at least begins to go to causes. And on taxes, the Government should not be thinking about tax cuts for middle and higher- income earners, but about liberating the working poor from the tax system altogether.

Mr Blair needs to throw caution to the wind. He needs to back his Foreign Secretary by agreeing that it would not be in Britain's interest to stay out of the euro for long. He needs to agree with Mr Mandelson that the case for joining the euro will become "unstoppable". He needs to say where he stands.

But, beyond that, he needs to come out and fight to make what could easily be a second landslide a meaningful mandate for wider modernisation. If he wins the next election, it should be clear that he has won in order to make this an open, liberal and democratic country.

Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all