Leading article: Labour has one last chance to fulfil its pledges

Share
Related Topics

The state of education, such a crucial issue, is a key pointer. If any area of public life should be showing renewed vigour after the tide of money devoted to its improvement, it should be our schools. Instead, a series of reports over the last few days have revealed one worrying trend after another. Truancy is up, by one third since 1997, fewer state-school children are going to the leading universities, and the expensive Sure Start, a flagship scheme to help deprived children, is failing to make a significant impact. Nor is the state of the health service much happier. New hospitals have been built and old ones improved, but with the NHS now facing financial crisis and two thirds of NHS trusts in deficit, a big question mark hangs over whether improvements to the health service can be maintained.

The pace of reform still seems too slow to effect real change, but too quick for the conservatives in the Labour party. The problem facing Mr Blair and Mr Brown is that, behind these points of failing schools, beleaguered hospitals and widening inequality - to say nothing of the abandoned European dream - bigger icebergs are heaving into view around which Labour's ship will steer with difficulty. One is Iraq; the other is the economy.

Iraq will remain an intractable problem, whoever is in Downing Street. It will forever tarnish Mr Blair's reputation, while Mr Brown will struggle to escape its shadow. As last week's events in Basra revealed, mayhem and disorder, previously confined to the American zone and the Sunni triangle, is now sweeping into the once calmer British zone in the south.

And then there is the economy. This is the Iron Chancellor's strongest suit and he has, undoubtedly, an excellent management record to date which has seen him frequently confound his critics. But here, too, the storm clouds are gathering. His admission that Britain's growth is likely to be 2.5 rather than 3.5 per cent may not sound that momentous, when attention is on the security chaos in Iraq and the meteorological chaos in the US. It remains the fastest-growing economy among the major players in the EU, but the consequences of his generosity towards the public services may be profound.

The truth of this week's conference is that a party that never warmed to Mr Blair is now looking forward to his departure. The silent transfer of power at home, with Blairite loyalists such as Tessa Jowell and Charles Clarke virtually queuing up to anoint Mr Brown, has made it even less likely that controversial reforms will be pushed through with conviction. With two masters at the head of government, ministers are striving to please both at the same time.

None of this bodes well for the radical decisions that Mr Blair and Mr Brown say they are committed to making. For all the difficulties, this curious duopoly remains the pre-eminent force in British politics, with a third election win under their belt and the opposition parties in disarray. They have one last chance to carry out their pledges to reshape Britain and its monolithic public services. We must hope that this week, finally, they rise to the challenges that they have set themselves.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost, Data Mining

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst - C++, Boost...

Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Support, Help desk)

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst- (Desktop Su...

Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Learning, SQL, Brokerage)

£30000 - £50000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Junior Quant Analyst (Machine Lea...

UNIX Application Support Analyst- Support, UNIX, London

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Harrington Starr: UNIX Application Support Analyst-...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US  

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Robert Fisk
 

Next they'll say an independent Scotland can't use British clouds...

Mark Steel
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention