Modernisers still search for big idea

Labour leak: Mystery surrounds how key adviser's candid analysis escaped from its limited distribution list
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Is it ever wise to be so candid on paper? Philip Gould whose document, written in March, leaked on Monday, and subtitled "Labour is not yet ready for government; it needs to complete its revolution" is still, for all the furore surrounding the leak, entitled to say it is.

His position is similar to that of John Maples, former deputy Tory Party chairman, who wrote an arguably even more sensational memorandum for restricted consumption on the deficiencies the Tories had to make up if they were to have any hope of electoral success.

There are other important similarities: both were written by political figures following research based on highly similar groups of disaffected Tory voters talking about their frustration with the Government and their suspicions of Labour. There is one important distinction, however, between the two documents.

Mr Maples was addressing himself to the specific issue of how the Tory Party could improve its performance in order to win the next election. Mr Gould's memo also dealt with pre-election campaigning suggesting a "unitary command structure leading directly to the party Leader". He also had a rather different, wider, agenda - not dissimilar to that moment at the end of the Robert Redford movie The Candidate when the shiny new young senator asks the political fixer who secured him his election victory: "What do we do now?"

Perhaps the most explosive part of the Gould memorandum, dealt with precisely that question: not how do we get there, but what is our big programme for government once we have got there. Or as Mr Gould put it, "[Labour] does not have a political project that matches the Thatcher agenda of 1979, nor one that will be able to sustain Labour in government and transform Britain". Mr Gould probably wouldn't have written in those terms seven months later: Clause IV has been replaced; policies have since emerged on education, health, monetary management and law and order, but the Tories will argue you can't put right something as fundamental as that in seven months.

So the big question yesterday in Brighton and Westminster was who leaked it and why? The fact that Seumas Milne, the energetic Guardian journalist whose scoop it was, is a labour correspondent who has close links with the traditionalist left and is an admirer of Arthur Scargill was widely taken as evidence that the source was anti-moderniser, possibly a union leader or a parliamentary left winger. But that doesn't quite fully answer the question. According to one version, only Mr Blair, Alastair Campbell, his press secretary, Jonathan Powell, his head of office, and Peter Mandelson, his close adviser, received the paper. Since it is inconceivable it was one of that quartet, the question arose of whether the document had, whether accidentally or deliberately, a wider circulation.

The truth may never be known, but the deputy leader John Prescott was said by his office not to have had a copy until his office asked Mr Blair's for one yesterday morning. Mr Prescott was irritated both with the content of the memorandum and even more so with his exclusion from its distribution list.

The other question, of course, is how far the recommendations have been implemented. The picture is a mixed one. The union block vote has been cut, as Mr Gould suggests; but Labour as a fully one-member one-vote party remains a distant prospect. The leader-driven "unitary command structure" would require a transformation of the national executive and conference which has scarcely even started. A "new culture" has happened to a large extent. A "new building" has not. A definitive statement of Blairite objectives, along the lines of Margaret Thatcher's pre-1979 The right approach, followed by an unveiling of a "revolutionary" policy agenda at the 1996 party conference, could happen, though the leaking of the memo deprives that strategy of the element of surprise.

There is not a policy unit on the exact model of No 10 - but the focus on renewal, political, social and economic, has indeed dominated Labour's campaigning in the past few months, as Mr Gould proposed it should. Mr Blair is not taking control of the day to day news management committee in his office as Mr Gould proposed it should. Gordon Brown is still in charge of that, but Mr Blair does chair a weekly strategy meeting as Mr Gould recommended. And so on.