Brown pins hopes on 'national plan' to revive Labour fortunes

Policy blitz and a reshuffle will be PM's answer to bad election results

By Andrew Grice
Thursday 24 May 2012 09:35

A "national plan" for Britain will be unveiled by Gordon Brown as he tries to fight back after Labour's expected elections rout next month, The Independent has learnt.

The Prime Minister wants the blueprint to be a route map for how the Government will lead the country out of recession and extend its public service reforms. It will cover the economy, industry, health, education and crime.

Mr Brown intends to "hit the ground running" immediately after the European Parliament election results are announced on 7 June. His "national plan" is also bound to be seen as his personal survival plan as some Labour backbenchers are expected to call for him to stand down if Labour performs badly.

There are growing fears in the Labour Party that the scandal over MPs' expenses could boost the prospects of the UK Independence Party in the Euro elections, and that it could push Labour into a humiliating fourth place.

Mr Brown is also expected to reshuffle his Cabinet shortly after the elections. Despite growing speculation in Westminster and Whitehall that Lord Mandelson will achieve his long-standing ambition to become Foreign Secretary, he is expected to remain as Business Secretary. That would allow him to oversee Labour's general election strategy, which would be difficult to do with the programme of overseas travel involved as Foreign Secretary.

Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, is expected to stand down from her post. There is speculation that Hazel Blears will lose her position as Communities Secretary and that Margaret Beckett the Housing minister and former foreign secretary dropped by Mr Brown, could be recalled to the Cabinet. The Prime Minister hopes that freshening up his Government and unveiling policies will enable him to draw a line under the expenses controversy.

The aim of the "national plan" is to show that Labour has not run out of steam after 12 years in office and has a more detailed prospectus than the Tories. Despite Labour's perilous position in opinion polls, Mr Brown is convinced Labour can still hold on to power if the general election could be turned into a choice between the rival policies of the two main parties. "Gordon Brown has a plan, David Cameron does not," one of Mr Brown's aides said. "When the voters realise that, we think they will look at things differently."

Labour strategists hope that publication of Mr Brown's plan may "flush out" more Tory policies. They suspect Mr Cameron has decided to try to coast to victory without spelling out his programme. The Tories insist they will unveil more policies in the autumn but say they would have to leave some details until they see the nation's books after an election.

A Populus poll for ITV's News at Ten last night found that 54 per cent of the public want an immediate general election, while 38 per cent do not. The survey put the Tories on 39 per cent, Labour on 27 per cent, the Liberal Democrats on 17 per cent and other parties on 18 per cent.

One cabinet minister said: "We can't contemplate a general election while it would be a referendum on Parliament or our record. We have got to make it a choice between two sets of policies. We hope the document will mark the start of that process."

The Cabinet will consider whether to accompany the document with a renewed commitment to constitutional reform. This follows calls for wider changes on top of reforms to the MPs' expenses regime to rebuild the public's trust in politics.

Mr Brown has signalled that he has an open mind to reform and that he wants to engage the public in the debate. In the Commons on Thursday, he did not rule out the idea of a constitutional convention, the method used to reach a consensus on Scottish devolution. But he told Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader, that the introduction of proportional representation was not the only way to reform the constitution.

But ministers admit that big changes such as an elected House of Lords and electoral reform could not be completed before the general election. "You can't overhaul the constitution by next week," one said.

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