Patrick Diamond: Labour must start taking Cameron seriously

Dismissing him as ideologically indistinguishable from Mrs Thatcher won't do

Share
Related Topics

Some party strategists - among them advisers, as I was, in No 10 - have convinced themselves the revival in Tory fortunes is an orchestrated presentational facade, an act of media spin of which New Labour would once have been proud.

They argue Cameron won the leadership, not because the Tories have changed, but because they have recovered an appetite for power. He might look like a winner, but Labour tacticians argue Cameron's downfall is imminent. His strategy for moving the Conservatives from the right to the centre will not convince a sceptical electorate. Like Hague, Duncan-Smith and Howard, the instincts of his party will force him back to the right.

Dismissing Cameron as ideologically indistinguishable from Margaret Thatcher wont do. According to a recent ICM poll: half of Liberal Democrat voters and a third of Labour voters say Cameron is someone they would consider voting for. His appeal is almost as strong in the north-west as the south-east of England. Tory support is rising among women and younger voters.

Since the general election, Labour has been obsessing about the leadership question: Blair or Brown? It risks being mesmerised by it at exactly the moment it needs to open its eyes to the Tories.

Two big assumptions underpin the Cameron strategy. The first is to set the terms of the electoral contest not as policy substance, but personality presentation. The second is to detach Labour from its role as the party of the future and of reform.

We must resist this; there are two big tasks ahead.

Labour has to start by setting the terms of political argument again so that policy prevails. It needs to escape the hold of momentum politics and the daily cycle of spin. Instead it must seek to win the big debates of the day. From tax to redistribution and Europe, the Conservatives are weak because they are unsure. It is the Tory leader, rather than Blair, who will be divided from his own ranks: Cameron is a Notting Hill head on a Tory body infused with neo-liberalism.

Cameron's pledge to divide the proceeds of growth between tax cuts and additional public spending will not reassure voters fearful of the Tories commitment to public services. Sustained improvement in education and health requires spending to rise consistently ahead of the trend rate of growth in the economy. The Tory impulse to cut taxes has become an ideological obsession.

So Cameron's Conservatives remain vulnerable to the charge of lacking a coherent strategy. But Labour must now pursue them relentlessly - tirelessly picking through each Tory proposition and pronouncement.

The second task is for Labour to offer an inspiring agenda for the future. Britain is tiring of the New Labour mantras of the 1990s. In some cases, the party is stuck with the defensive positions it carved out in the 1980s, not least on tax. It has failed to launch big public debates, for example on the injustice of the gap between rich and poor. It needs to be candid where Labour's ambitions have so far been constrained.

New ideas and fresh policy energy are needed. The central theme of politics in the coming era will be expanding freedom - enlarging the scope for individuals to exercise greater control in their lives at a time of unrivalled affluence but also unprecedented insecurity.

Three things could be done immediately. First, give education rather than the NHS priority in the 2007 expenditure review. Second, launch a Progressive Tax Commission to assess the fairness and efficiency of the tax and benefits system ahead of the next election.

Finally, Labour must encourage a wider spread of asset ownership: increasing home owning to 80 per cent is laudable. But greater incentives for employee share ownership and profit sharing are needed: where corporate profitability is strong, it is right to encourage the spreading and sharing of wealth.

The Tories will claim that greater personal freedom is best achieved when the state gets out of the way. Social democrats argue through collective provision and an enabling state security and opportunity will be afforded to all.

The way forward for Labour lies not in reverting to the familiar comfort blankets of the past, or in denying Cameron's appeal, but in thinking afresh. The great progressive causes require Labour to remain the party of the future. This is the ground on which David Cameron's Conservatives must be beaten.

The author is Senior Visiting Fellow at LSE and a former Special Adviser in No 10

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Corbyn's style has the authenticity of being true to oneself  

Do modern leaders need ‘charisma’?

Boyd Tonkin
The Attorney General launched the investigation on 20 July  

The two questions that David Cameron must ask Benjamin Netanyahu

Ruby Stockham
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones