Statistics are no substitute for political vision

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The hyperbole that preceded the Prime Minister's speech in Chatham yesterday led us to believe that Mr Blair would deliver a bold blueprint for Labour's forthcoming manifesto. There was also a frisson of anticipation that he would take the opportunity afforded by the Chancellor's absence to undermine further his rival's claims to the leadership. But, in the end, Mr Blair did neither.

The hyperbole that preceded the Prime Minister's speech in Chatham yesterday led us to believe that Mr Blair would deliver a bold blueprint for Labour's forthcoming manifesto. There was also a frisson of anticipation that he would take the opportunity afforded by the Chancellor's absence to undermine further his rival's claims to the leadership. But, in the end, Mr Blair did neither.

The Prime Minister's speech was heavy in statistics (over which Mr Blair noticeably stumbled, and then joked about) but distinctly light on vision. There has been much talk of a "radical" Labour third term from Number 10, but Mr Blair provided precious little indication yesterday of how this will be achieved. His presentation of the need for public service reform was flat and unenthusiastic. What the speech demonstrated was that Mr Blair intends to fight the forthcoming election in the same way as he has fought the previous two - with caution. The theme he returned to more than any other yesterday was the economic stability that Labour has delivered.

This is a shrewd political tactic, because stressing economic competence in a campaign alienates as few people as possible. But it does not bode well for the future of the NHS and our schools, which, despite constant tinkering, are still not performing adequately. And it raises questions about the route-map for Mr Blair's third term. He has said that he will not fight a fourth term, which means he will have to stand down at some point in the next four years. That does not leave much time to accomplish the wholesale reforms he has promised.

The phrase "unremittingly New Labour", which appeared more than once in the speech, is generally interpreted as a sideswipe at Gordon Brown and his "old Labour" appeal. But the effect of this barb was considerably reduced by Mr Blair's continued reference to the success of the economy, the credit for which belongs to the Chancellor.

The Prime Minister informed us yesterday, in his by now familiar way, that "there is much still to do". That is true, but Mr Blair is yet to make a convincing case that he can accomplish his aims in a third term.

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