New Labour will stay credible

This week's poll triumph can be repeated, says Peter Mandelson
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The Independent Online
Let no one gainsay it, Dudley was a tremendous victory for Labour. But the question Labour has always faced, but not fully confronted, is why the party has not converted by-election successes into general election victories. History need not repe at itself. The evidence lies in how Dudley voters explained their embrace of Labour.

For the first time, it was said, they felt that they were looking at a party that had genuinely changed. There are three important reasons why Blair is more than just a pretty face. The first is his personality. The voters are crying out for a political leader they can believe in and trust. The Dudley voters described Blair as strong and honest. Nothing that is going to jump out and reveal him in a different light.

The second reason for Labour's current progress is its clarity. For a long time, party leaders have sounded an uncertain note for fear of offending this group or that special interest within their own ranks. Worse still, they have argued for change not out of principle but simply to win electoral favour. This was, ultimately, as offensive - and unbelievable - to party activists as it was to voters.

The third reason is the blunt assurance that Labour in power will take the country forwards, not backwards. Few think that Tories in the Eighties has delivered the prosperity that was promised or at an acceptable social cost.

Equally, the notion that Labour should scrap everything and start from scratch is neither desirable nor feasible, whether in relation to the economy, schools, hospitals, trade unions or the utilities. In 1995 Labour needs to demonstrate how industrial change, education, health care, rights at work and the management of the public sector will grow and improve throughout the new ideas Labour is advancing for the Nineties - not simply what it advocated in the Sixties and Seventies.

Labour must not ape the Tories or look to the past but set fresh dividing lines for new Labour that provide a credible alternative to both the old Left and the new Right.

If Labour retains this strategy, there is no conceivable reason why the party should lose. Of course, a combination of tax bribes and lies about us will enable the Tories to recover some of this support. But the incapacity of the Tories to unite fully around a single set of ideas and the extent to which new Labour is making the Liberal Democrats redundant will help Labour's prospects. The third party is not irrelevant to British politics and Labour should not underestimate the longing of many voters to see the opposition parties work together to get the Tories out. But no one can doubt that Labour will be in the driving seat. It is now a national party in every sense.

The author is the MP for Hartlepool.