Leading article: Labour has a route map, but does it have enough time?

Fighting back will be a monumental challenge

Share
Related Topics

Where Gordon Brown's speech to the Labour conference in Manchester last year was personal, this year's address in Brighton was pugnacious. The attacks on the Conservatives came thick and fast, particularly on their supposed lack of economic competence. And, in fairness, the Prime Minister did have a strong case to make about the hesitant and confused manner in which the Tories reacted to last year's global financial meltdown.

In other ways, however, the speech served to emphasise the now familiar flaws in the Prime Minister's own character. He failed to convey any acceptance of glaring past mistakes of his own, from the light touch policy on bank supervision to allowing the public finances to become excessively reliant on the revenues from financial services. And he offered no detail on where Labour would cut spending to back up his assertion that Labour would be more humane when it came to tackling the yawning budget deficit.

The focus of the speech on crime and disorder was also unconvincing. It is understandable that the Prime minister and his advisers felt the need to return to the anti-social behaviour agenda given the palpable sense of public outrage over the appalling deaths of Fiona Pilkington and her daughter. But that section of the speech nevertheless came across as rather forced, given that Mr Brown has paid so little attention to this subject in the past.

The policy response he laid out – various innovations such as "family intervention projects" and "police action squads" – also felt depressingly knee-jerk. As the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson, argued in his own conference speech yesterday, the problem is not an absence of tools for the police and local authorities when dealing with problem families, but the failure of the authorities to use those powers.

Elsewhere, there was some substance to please progressives, such as the commitment to reform the voting system and the House of Lords. There were also signs of a retreat on biometric passports, with the announcement of a limit on the amount of material that will be required from the public. The idea of using the facilities of the Post Office network to provide more banking services is also sound. Done properly, this could inject some much needed competition into the private retail banking sector and also help reinvigorate isolated rural communities.

In all, this was not a game-changing speech (so few really are) but it at least provides a route map for Labour to make a proper contest of the next election. A twin strategy is gradually emerging – highlighting the Tories' lack of credibility, particularly on the economy, and attempting to rebuild the fractured New Labour coalition by making a fresh pitch for alienated middle-class support.

This ambition is welcome. It is not in the country's interests to see Labour retreat into a damage-limiting core vote strategy. The problem is that, as the polls show, Labour starts from such a low base of popular support. A poll in this newspaper earlier this week showed them level with the Liberal Democrats. And given that a general election must be held by next June at the latest, Labour has only a very limited time in which to turn things around.

Mr Brown's speech and this week's conference have probably done enough to give Labour the space to mount a fightback. But at the moment it is looking like a harder fight than any the party has experienced for 20 years.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Foundation Primary Teacher

£100 - £140 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are looking for Founda...

Psychology Teacher

Main Teacher Pay Scale : Randstad Education Leeds: Teacher of Psychology An en...

International Promotions Manager - Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: A global entertainment busi...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Devolution for the North would be great if only Manchester didn’t rile the region’s other major cities so much

Chris Blackhurst
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song  

Attacks on 'Ukip Calypso' show just how skewed people’s priorities are

Nigel Farage
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

Liverpool v Real Madrid

Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?