View from City Road: Labour champion of consumers

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Life is unfair. If Labour lays out precisely what its fiscal plans are, as John Smith did as Shadow Chancellor before the April 1992 election, it alienates all those people who would be asked to pay more. It may even alienate those who would not pay more, but who suspect that Labour would not stop there.

But if Labour is not specific, the Conservatives can accuse it of being vague (as Michael Portillo did yesterday) and of having a secret agenda. This is not merely the legacy of Labour's past predilection for lollipop politics - every interest group gets a lick. It is a common problem faced by left-of-centre parties in North America and Europe. Taxing- and-spending is out of fashion.

If there were easy answers to the left's marketing problem, Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor, would have found them. As it is, Mr Brown is treading a careful line between some interesting specific ideas and some very hazy principles.

But this caution is unlikely to work. Mr Brown may have to paint himself much more clearly as a champion of consumers rather than the erstwhile defender of producer and trade union interest.