Focus: Fightback - Labour revives its past

After the Euro election disaster, the party hierarchy is hoping to rediscover the romance of the labour movement

ast week hundreds of boxes were delivered to Labour's Millbank Tower headquarters. They contained the party's "secret weapon" for the next general election, a computer system linking the apparatchiks in London with activists around the country. This all-powerful network is already being nicknamed "Son of Excalibur", after the infamous media-monitoring machine that was used to rebut negative stories at the touch of a button in 1997. But its aim is very different - this system will allow Tony Blair to communicate not with the media but with his party members, e-mailing them with Labour's daily message. And this is symbolic of a shift in attitude.

The wipe-out in the European elections made the Millbank machine realise that it needs its "embarrassing elderly relatives" in the provinces as much as its glamorous Islington babes. On Monday, John Monks, the moderate TUC general secretary who lost his patience with the Government's attitude towards its loyal long-standing supporters last weekend, turned up at the Treasury to see Gordon Brown. It was a long-arranged meeting but it had a new significance following the union leader's remarks. The Chancellor did not miss the opportunity to emphasise how important Labour's loyal working-class voters were to the party. In return Monks stressed that he was not criticising Government policies - such as the minimum wage, the increase in child benefit or the working families tax credit, which have actually had a redistributive effect - but that he was concerned about the tendency to over-emphasise concessions to the business community.

The Prime Minister still talks of the importance of maintaining the "coalition" between old and new Labour voters but Downing Street now acknowledges that the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of trying to please middle England. This week it intends to move back in the other direction.

The Government will still be "100 per cent proof" New Labour, as Blair said last week, but this week's "fightback", as Downing Street is all too happy to describe it, will include a cacophony of policy announcements covering everything from benefit reform to the Child Support Agency, from pensions to children's homes. The themes will be typically New Labour but there will be a subtle shift to emphasising the "core vote" agenda. Plans to ensure that the minimum wage is being properly implemented, by allowing the Inland Revenue to check people's income through their tax records, will be stressed rather than proposals to help the business community. Ideas for helping the inner cities will be promoted rather than initiatives to boost out-of-town supermarkets.

One aim is to put "clear red water" between Labour and the Conservatives in the public's mind. A slogan has been written for the summer months telling people that "Labour is delivering, the Tories are opposing". Ministers and special advisers have also been told to think of aggressive sound-bites that can be used to sum up their messages, as part of a concerted effort to repoliticise the Government. But there is also a desire to reinvolve the Labour activists who will be crucial in the run-up to the next election. Gordon Brown has come up with the idea of a summer campaign to highlight what the Government is doing to tackle child poverty - an issue close to traditional supporters' hearts. Labour members will be encouraged to tour the streets telling the public about policies such as the working families tax credit or the minimum income guarantee for pensioners and, if necessary, showing people how to fill in the relevant forms. This will be matched by a multi-million-pound advertising campaign in the autumn to drive the message home from the centre.

At last week's meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party, Tam Dalyell compared Tony Blair's autocratic leadership style to that of Napoleon. The veteran Labour MP had been to a seminar the day before, in which Professor Peter Hennessy, the contemporary historian, had said the current Prime Minister had "the most commanding style of premiership since 1945". He quoted not a left- winger but a Blairite who had boasted that the leader was "Napoleonic not feudal". Blair had dramatically strengthened the centre since getting to power, increasing the number of staff at Number 10 from 95 to 160, Professor Hennessy said. He tended to bypass Cabinet; the shift towards presidential government had, this Whitehall expert said, been "quite extraordinary" since Labour got to power.

It is a trend deeply resented in Labour heartlands, where it is seen not as strong leadership but the actions of a control freak. In the past few weeks Blair has begun to realise that the party needs its traditional supporters more than he originally thought. He recently invited Michael Foot and his wife, Jill Craigie, to lunch at Chequers to tell him about the "romance" of the labour movement. New Labour is beginning to see that its present and its future might just be dependent on its past.

Voices
voices
Life and Style
Upright, everything’s all right (to a point): remaining on one’s feet has its health benefits – though in moderation
HealthIf sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode
arts + ents
Sport
Laura Trott with her gold
Commonwealth GamesJust 48 hours earlier cyclist was under the care of a doctor
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman
arts + entsFilmmaker posted a picture of Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Twitter
News
Bryan had a bracelet given to him by his late father stolen during the raid
people
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel
arts + entsPrince Oberyn nearly sets himself on fire with a flaming torch
News
Danny Nickerson, 6, has received 15,000 cards and presents from well-wishers around the world
newsDanny loves to see his name on paper, so his mother put out a request for cards - it went viral
Sport
France striker Loic Remy
sportThe QPR striker flew to Boston earlier in the week to complete deal
News
Orville and Keith Harris. He covered up his condition by getting people to read out scripts to him
People
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana stars in this summer's big hope Guardians of the Galaxy
filmHollywood's summer blockbusters are no longer money-spinners
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Life and Style
Workers in Seattle are paid 100 times as much as workers in Bangladesh
fashionSeattle company lets customers create their own clothes, then click 'buy' and wait for delivery
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Data Analyst

    £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable software house is looking ...

    Application Support Analyst / Junior SQL Server DBA

    £40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established professional services...

    Commercial Litigation

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: CITY - SENIOR COMMERCIAL LITIGATION SO...

    BI Developer - Sheffield - £35,000 ~ £40,000 DOE

    £35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

    Day In a Page

    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

    Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

    Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

    Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
    Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

    Edinburgh Fringe 2014

    The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

    The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried