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Leading article: Wanted: new political thinking


Another beast is out and circling around Gordon Brown. And this time it is serious. In the immediate aftermath of Mr Brown's worst week as Prime Minister a number of predators began to sniff the air. The most explicit was the former Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, a political heavyweight, but a man widely discounted as embittered. Next in directness was the former Labour chair Hazel Blears, who revealed the mood of Blairites within the Cabinet.

But it is the intervention of Alan Milburn, the man whom Tony Blair once regarded as his protégé, which is perhaps most revealing. The article by Mr Milburn which we carry today fires a significant shot across the bows of HMS Brown. Its subtext is this: it is all very well for Labour to focus on the many ramifications of the global financial crisis but it is not enough. An election is looming and fire-fighting on the economy will not be sufficient to save Labour.

Mr Milburn detects a vast blank space where the Labour manifesto ought to be. If the party is to stand a chance of being elected it needs new policies on education, housing, training and childcare. It needs to offer new ways to reduce crime, create jobs, regenerate communities and protect the environment. As Mr Miliband implies, there is precious little sign of any of this necessary thinking going on.

What is clear is that the old political solutions will not fit a new era characterised by rising demand for public services and dwindling public resources. Old Labour put its trust in the state and nationalisation, Thatcherism in the free market and privatisation, New Labour in high spending and modernisation – but none of that will work now.

Mr Milburn's solution is a new vesting of power in individuals to give citizens greater control over the decisions which affect them. This, of course, raises questions of its own about affordability. "Shifting individual behaviour" is unlikely to be cheap. But whatever the merits of Mr Milburn's prescriptions, he has certainly helped to identify a gap in the present policies of the Government. The time has come for new thinking and some detailed policy which reflects that.