Should we be impatient for an election? The answer is yes. It may be difficult to remember at times, given the extraordinary defensiveness of the Opposition and their dogged reluctance to show leadership, but Labour offers something rather different. Not, manifestly, any brave new economic formula, for Gordon Brown wears his financial brutalism as a badge of pride. Beyond the promises already made, notably the reduction in primary school class sizes, the cutting of NHS waiting lists and the effort to get the young unemployed into work, we are unlikely to see much that involves spending. But if Labour wins we will see a change in assumptions about society and the economy which will make a difference. We will have a minimum wage, albeit probably a low one, and the Social Chapter. The Conservative view that the only future for Britain is as a low-wage, low- skill, offshore economy will be discarded in favour of something more ambitious, and the widening of the gap between rich and poor, the most shameful characteristic of the past 17 years, should end.
Given the caution of the Labour leadership, the change of assumptions will probably be felt in many small decisions rather than in a few large ones. There are three areas, however, where change promises to be dramatic. The first is the constitution, where the party still plans to introduce devolution for Scotland and Wales (pending referendums), to reform the House of Lords and possibly even to introduce some form of proportional representation. All of these have the potential to increase accountability and give more meaning to democracy in this country. The second area of dramatic change should be the arrival in Parliament of many more women. If Labour wins, it may have as many as 90 women on its benches, bringing a change in the character of the legislature that is long overdue. The third area is Europe, where the picture may be cloudier but where Labour appears to take a fundamentally more positive view. At the very least, it would be hard-pushed to do a worse job in Europe than the Conservatives.
Tony Blair's leadership is frustrating to watch. He is bold with his party but not with the electorate; the vision he offers is so blurred as to be bland. His principal message appears to be not that we should vote Labour for Labour's sake, but that we should do so because Labour is the only viable alternative to the Conservatives, who are patently awful. And yet this is not the whole story, for although they make little noise about it there is enough in the Labour programme to justify voting Labour with some honest conviction. John Major, however, prefers to sit on his hands for another four months, with no thought in his head but his own survival, rather than give you the chance to do that.Reuse content