Steve Richards: PM takes moral high ground in battle for Middle England

Analysis

Share
Related Topics

Gordon Brown began his speech by arguing that the country faces the biggest choice for a generation at the next election. The assertion framed the arguments that followed. Mr Brown clings to the hope that the terrible polls for Labour are closer to a referendum on the Government. For 50 minutes, he sought to transform the political battle into one between Labour and the Conservatives.

As a result, the speech switched jerkily from a sermon about Labour's values to a tactical briefing about how he planned to mount a comeback over the next six months. At least the jerkiness was authentic. Mr Brown has always been a moral crusader determined to outmanoeuvre political opponents at any available opportunity.

The tactical briefing was more significant than the sermonising in some ways. Returning to a New Labour soundbite from the late 1990s, he insisted he stood for the many and not the few. In case the message did not get through the first time, he spoke of the "hard-working majority" in relation to every policy announcement. Forget about speculation that Mr Brown has opted for a so-called "core vote" strategy in which every word is aimed solely at wooing "traditional" supporters. From the depths of record-breaking unpopularity, Mr Brown seeks to resurrect the fractured New Labour coalition that propelled the party to power in the last three elections one more time.

He made his pitch partly by seeking to place the Tories on the wrong side of every key policy – from their response to the recession to their current stance on Europe – and by claiming the mantle of change. Mischievously he argued that he was not seeking a fourth term, but the first term of a Labour government in what he called this new global age.

Some of the policy arguments did signal genuine change. The most substantial was support for electoral reform for the Commons and the pledge of an early referendum. This is a more concrete proposal than the one made by Tony Blair in 1997 when he promised a referendum without specifying whether he supported a change. Some of the other commitments were imprecise, not least in the timing of their implementation. With little subtlety others were aimed at Middle England, again in New Labour style. Their purpose was to show that while Labour is committed to political change, social justice and a sensible set of economic policies, the Conservatives were more backward-looking and had, as Mr Brown put it, "no heart". In practical terms most of the policies will be pointless if Labour loses the election. Some should have been implemented long ago.

As he made his announcements and juxtaposed them with the approach of the Conservatives, the speech became formulaic, closer to a list in which "Labour values, policy announcement, contrast with the Tories, for the many and not the few" became a too-familiar sequence. The tactical briefing ran out of steam some time before the end of the speech.

It began before Mr Brown appeared on the stage when, for the second year running, his wife, Sarah, emerged to introduce him. Mr Brown does not like the personal emoting that seems to be the current fashion in politics. Wisely, he did not try to insert too many contrived personal passages in his speech. He would not have been able to pull them off. Sarah, evidently, is the way in which Labour will seek to humanise the public face of the more buttoned-up Gordon. She joked that he is messy and gets up too early and goes to bed too late, leaving him clear to deal with the more serious matters, which is publicly all he feels comfortable talking about.

The style of the sermonising sections of the speech was dated, but the arguments were strong. Unusually, although by no means for the first time, Mr Brown tried to place the economic crisis in an ideological context. He described the belief that markets never failed and always self-corrected as a bankrupt ideology. He argued instead that markets needed morals and put forward a defence of government activity, which has been a theme of the week. His declaration that "too much government indifference can leave people powerless" echoes the speeches made by Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson.

Mr Brown's address was not a "game changer" – one that changes politics in a dramatic fashion. I doubt that it will have the same immediate impact that his speech had last year when he declared that it was no time for a novice.

The text is more significant as a guide to how he, Peter Mandelson and a few others plan to mount a fightback over the next six months. Labour's fate will be determined by the strategy outlined in the speech, and not by the speech itself.

Brown’s policy schedule... and what it means

IDENTITY CARDS

Announcement: British citizens will not be forced to register for national identity cards.

Verdict: Home Secretary Alan Johnson has already announced this concession. But people will still be added to the ID database when they get a new passport.

ELECTORAL REFORM

Announcement: Referendum on whether voters want a proportional system.

Verdict: The Cabinet has been moving in this direction. Mr Brown is attempting to cast the Tories as defenders of the status quo.

MPs' BEHAVIOUR

Announcement: Those guilty of "financial corruption" could have to face a by-election.

Verdict: Gordon Brown foreshadowed this move in an article for The Independent in May. There could be practical and legal problems.

YOUNG MUMS' HOSTELS

Announcement: 16 and 17-year-old parents would be placed in "supervised homes" to bring up their children.

Verdict: First mooted more than 10 years ago. Only £30m is being allocated over three years initially.

CHILDCARE

Announcement: Free childcare for 250,000 two-year-olds by the year 2015.

Verdict: Less ambitious than plans outlined last year. Would be paid for by scaling back childcare tax reliefs.

CANCER CARE

Announcement: Suspected cancer patients will be tested and get their results within a week of being referred.

Verdict: Supposedly to be funded by £1bn of savings in hospital-building programme. Will not come fully into force until 2015.

BINGE DRINKING

Announcement: Councils will get the power to ban 24-hour drinking.

Verdict: Only town halls can currently close down specific pubs and clubs. The Government's first admission that licensing reform has encouraged binge drinking.

CUTTING DEBT

Announcement: Alistair Darling's promise to halve national deficit in the next four years will be enshrined in law.

Verdict: The first time a government has ever taken such a step. Critics protest it is a gimmick.

SOCIAL CARE

Announcement: Free care at home for all elderly people judged to have "high needs", abolishing the means-testing faced by 350,000 people.

Verdict: Populist new policy. The £400m-a-year bill will largely be met by cuts in spending on IT, advertising, marketing and consultancy.

Nigel Morris

React Now

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

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Does earning a 6 figu...

Recruitment Genius: SEO Executive

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: New Lift Sales Executive - Lift and Elevators

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A challenging opportunity for a...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
 

Never underestimate the power of the National Trust

Boyd Tonkin
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss