New Labour has begun to regain a sense of purpose, but problems still remain

Share

Last week was a good one for the Government, with billions handed out to ease congestion on the roads and in hospitals, and ending with a light bounce in the opinion polls. Just as well, considering the din of dark mutterings about when the leaks and spin would be supplanted by substance. Truth to tell, the Government's standing was never quite as bad as some in it seemed to think, but things were looking increasingly grim for a time.

Last week was a good one for the Government, with billions handed out to ease congestion on the roads and in hospitals, and ending with a light bounce in the opinion polls. Just as well, considering the din of dark mutterings about when the leaks and spin would be supplanted by substance. Truth to tell, the Government's standing was never quite as bad as some in it seemed to think, but things were looking increasingly grim for a time.

From the Comprehensive Spending Review to the Government's proposals on transport and the national plan for the NHS, ministers have shown a return to the better side of New Labour - a pragmatic and non-dogmatic approach leading to practical, realistic ideas. It is not, quite, "delivery", but it is a lot nearer to it than double-counting meaningless billions and the gumph of overexcited spinning. It also reminds us that, for all its frailties, this is, indeed, a Labour government with different priorities from the Conservatives.

Equally, the Conservative revival has shown signs of stuttering. Mr Hague, still impressive in the Commons, is growing into his job, even if "Prime Minister Hague" retains its faraway quality. Far more disappointing has been the performance of shadow Chancellor, Michael Portillo.

He has been virtually invisible at a time when spending has been the focus of political debate; indeed, he attracts less coverage than when he was supposedly "in the wilderness". And when he does pop up, his numbers don't add up. He may have wriggled out of the ludicrous tax guarantee, but it is hard to see how he can justify his attack on Labour's spending without identifying where he will swing his axe. Mr Portillo will have to be careful he does not become the third shadow Gordon Brown sees off.

There are more potent dangers to this government than the official Opposition. Prime among these is that there is so little time before polling day for voters to witness change "on the ground". New Labour has a slogan for that - "a lot done, a lot still to do", but the electorate is entitled to ask what "a lot done" amounts to the next time they visit their GP, catch a train, or wait for a 999 call to be answered.

Of course, New Labour's greatest achievement has been a negative one - the avoidance of a financial crisis that the critics and history said was inevitable. More than that, Mr Brown has delivered a degree of fiscal stability impressive by any standards. The Chancellor should be given generous credit for his work, and also for much of this week's recovery.

But problems remain. The friction about the euro, if it turns out be about more than mere tactics, threatens New Labour's place in history. All the solid domestic achievements could be overshadowed by a failure to secure future prosperity by joining the euro. Official hesitancy is contributing to dwindling support for entry.

This speaks, sadly, to a larger truth; the Prime Minister's attitude to public opinion, or at least that version of it served up by Philip Gould. For a politician whose formative years were the 1980s, when Labour held the voters in contempt (a feeling reciprocated) it is an understandable instinct. But it is one that can tip into obsession, even paranoia, as seen in Mr Blair's dreadfully revealing "Touchstone Issues" leaked memo. But the job of leaders is to shift the argument. The worry about Mr Blair is his seemingly extreme distaste for conviction politics. On issues like asylum and gay rights, as well as the euro, he seems to have forgotten that public opinion is not immutable. To try to persuade voters is not to offer them contempt but leadership.

The polls say that the public still rate Mr Blair. He should return the compliment.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Cleaner

£15000 - £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you've got first class custo...

Recruitment Genius: Mobile Applications Developer / Architect - iOS and Android

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a great opportunity to join a medium s...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Account Executive - £40K OTE

£11830 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working in a friendly, sales ta...

Recruitment Genius: Web Designer

£15000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Pentagon has suggested that, since the campaign started, some 10,000 Isis fighters in Iraq and Syria have been killed  

War with Isis: If US wants to destroy the group, it will need to train Syrians and Iraqis

David Usborne
David Cameron gives a speech at a Tory party dinner  

In a time of austerity, should Tories be bidding £210,000 for a signed photo of the new Cabinet?

Simon Kelner
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test
Tour de France 2015: Twins Simon and Adam Yates have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Twins have a mountain to climb during Tour of duty

Yates brothers will target the steepest sections in bid to win a stage in France
John Palmer: 'Goldfinger' of British crime was murdered, say police

Murder of the Brink’s-MAT mastermind

'Goldfinger' of British crime's life ended in a blaze of bullets, say police
Forget little green men - aliens will look like humans, says Cambridge University evolution expert

Forget little green men

Leading evolutionary biologist says aliens will look like humans
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

An Algerian scientist struggles to adjust to her new life working in a Scottish kebab shop
Bodyworlds museum: Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy

Dying dream of Doctor Death

Dr Gunther von Hagens has battled legal threats, Parkinson's disease, and the threat of bankruptcy