Andrew Grice: Wilson's jibe may return to haunt Brown

Inside Politics

Share
Related Topics

The crushing weight of the economic crisis squeezes out time and space for other issues for both the politicians and the media. Yet in government, important work goes on beneath the radar. It must.

While Gordon Brown devotes most of his formidable energy to the economy, the best brains in Downing Street have realised that, whatever the state of the nation when the general election comes, Labour must have a story to tell that goes beyond the economy. It has started the very difficult task of sketching out what the party's pitch for a fourth term might be.

Without one, Labour would leave the field clear to David Cameron, who would be delighted to fill the vacuum. Some ministers worry that, after 13 years in power, Labour will look exhausted, both physically and in terms of ideas. Some already hear echoes of Harold Wilson's "13 wasted years" jibe, which helped him to election victory in 1964 after a long period of Tory rule.

It was much easier for Mr Wilson to project a forward-looking vision, encapsulated in his 1963 "the white heat of technology" speech, than the tired old Tories.

Next time, the boot will be on the other foot. For a governing party, each election gets harder. Renewal is much easier in opposition. As the Blair-to-Brown transition shows, changing the leader does not guarantee it. Mr Brown was renewed only by a financial crisis.

Even after the 1997 landslide, few Labour folk would have dreamt they would ever have an outside chance of winning a fourth term. Labour is still in the game, but it will be hard pounding. If it produces a manifesto fizzing with a new raft of reforms on health and education, people will ask why the hell it had not implemented them already. And wouldn't that be a public admission of too many wasted years?

Conversely, a safety-first, more-of-the-same manifesto would be outsparkled by the New Tories.

So, No 10 insiders argue, Labour will need to offer change by extending its reforms on public services – tailoring them more to people's individual needs and addressing new challenges such as social care. And it will have to spell out what a post-recession Britain would look like.

Expect Mr Wilson's "white heat" to be mirrored by Mr Brown's "green growth", though the Tories and Liberal Democrats are already on the case. The election battle has been foreshadowed in little-noticed speeches. Last week, Oliver Letwin, the Tories' influential policy chief, argued that Labour's biggest failures since 1997 had been caused by regulation – both under-regulation (bank lending, Equitable Life, Haringey children's services) and over-regulation (obsessive targets and box-ticking, which often fail to improve performance).

Mr Letwin called for less rule-based regulation and a return to a common sense system in which well-qualified professionals use their judgement to monitor services.

The Tories insist that their vision of smaller government in a "post-bureaucratic age" has not been overtaken by the dramatic economic events. I am not so sure. In a crisis, people expect the government to act.

This week, ministers had to fend off media questions about the weather: why had they allowed local authorities to run out of salt and close schools?

As I write this, a Tory press release pops into my inbox, headed: "Government must get a grip as Britain's grit crisis worsens. Labour ministers have let the country down with lack of emergency planning."

On Thursday, the Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne accused the Tories of wanting a "post-government age" and tried to head off the Tories' "Big Brother" charge. A government, he said, "should be the conductor, not the whole choir".

"We don't need a big government to have a strong state, but we do need a strong state to have a richer economy and a fairer society in years to come," he said, rehearsing Labour's election lines.

Although I remain a little sceptical, there is one powerful reason why Labour might finally bite the bullet and decentralise power: lack of money. Since 1999, Labour has delivered more investment than reform while promising both. Money for its flagship policies has been no object. Now the cash has run out, but it still needs fresh ideas for itsmanifesto.

Without them, Labour will fight the election on a promise to raise taxes to clear up the mess from the economic crisis, without offering people anything in return. Tricky? Very. Mr Brown will need his best brains to be in top gear.





React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Tony Abbott: A man most Australian women would like to pat on the back...iron in hand

Caroline Garnar
Australian rapper Iggy Azalea performs in California  

Hip hop is both racial and political, and for Iggy Azalea to suggest otherwise is insulting

Yomi Adegoke
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
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there