How Brown could still be laughing all the way back to Downing Street

The polls suggest that the Prime Minister is doomed. So what can he do to turn it around? We asked the experts

Interviews,Andy McSmith,Girish Gupta
Tuesday 06 April 2010 00:00 BST
(getty images)

Go for the economy

Peter Kellner, President, YouGov polling organisation

Principally, Gordon Brown has got to win the economic argument. Labour was miles behind when the country went into recession. It started to close the gap, and almost drew level on the argument about who was the more competent to run the economy, but the gap has widened since the Budget. Really it's all summed up in the old saying "It's the economy, stupid", but that adage is doubly true in today's financial climate. In the last three elections, the economy was one issue among others, but this time it is absolutely predominant. Labour have got to deprive the Tories of their reputation for economic competence.

On national insurance, they need to persuade people that the Conservatives' sums do not add up. And one thing they need is more third-party endorsements. Last week, they were doubly damaged – first when the Conservatives announced that they would reverse Labour's proposed increase in national insurance, and then when that was followed by endorsements for the Conservatives by business leaders. So far I have not heard any third-party endorsement for Labour except from business leaders already associated with the party, such as Alan Sugar.

Stick to your guns

Lance Price, Commentator and former Downing Street spin doctor

There is no point in Gordon Brown trying to reinvent himself, or the Labour Party, at this late stage. What people think about Gordon Brown is already factored into their voting intentions, and if he tries to be anyone other than who he is, that will come across as phoney.

They have got to convince people that Labour values remain the same, and that those values are still relevant, and they have got to campaign remorselessly on the economy. They must convince people that Labour understands the need to carry on supporting the economy until it is safe to start addressing the deficit head on.

They cannot back down from the position they have taken on national insurance, which has been a superficial vote winner for the Conservatives, but if Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling remain focused, and don't zig zag, they should be able to undermine the credibility of George Osborne as someone who does zig zag and is without the experience – or the conviction, or the understanding of the economy – that is required of a Chancellor.

Target the banks

Neal Lawson, Chairman, Compass, left-wing pressure group

People want policies that will make a difference to their lives. Gordon Brown will go into the election with Labour trailing the Tories by around 10 per cent. Election campaigns rarely change such leads, unless the party trailing does something to completely change the terms of debate for the campaign. These are tough times caused by irresponsibility at the top of big corporations. Labour should promise to make the banks safe by separating investment banks from services banks. They should introduce a "Tobin tax" on bank transactions, set up a high-pay commission to tackle excessive pay, cap interest rates on unsecured loans, increase the minimum wage, and close the gender pay gap. They should promise to holding a binding referendum on electoral reform, scrap Trident and use the money saved to provide specialised health cover and affordable housing for service personnel, tax junk mail, ban advertising aimed at children, replace student top-up fees with a graduate tax, and renationalise the railways. There is nothing for Labour to be scared of. It will be timidity not bravery that will stop Labour beating the Tories.

Show some humility

Claire Rayner, Agony aunt

I am on the Prime Minister's commission for mid-wifery and have met Gordon Brown several times. He looks tired – well, he is entitled to be that – but he was always sensible. I have got a lot of time for him.

Politics now is like a maelstrom. You don't know where you are. In some ways that is huge fun, but it can be like watching idiots fighting.

I used to support Labour. I never stopped being Labour; it just stopped being me, if you follow me. It was after they won that huge majority in 1997, and Tony Blair turned himself into a demigod. So I think Gordon Brown should be a bit humble. He should make overtures to the Liberal Democrats, because my dream team would be Brown in No 10 and Vince Cable in No 11. I think Gordon Brown should be absolutely straightforward. I don't think he should respond to silly attacks, but should stand stand firm for what he is and what he believes in.

Relax on TV

Robert Worcester, Founder, MORI polling organisation

We still haven't heard the end of the distillation of people's thoughts in the City about the Budget. If the City believes that Brown, and particularly Darling, have got something going for them, they could think that it is better to hang onto Labour.

The next big hurdle is 15 April, the first set of television debates. David Cameron is expected to do brilliantly; Gordon Brown is expected to do badly. So Cameron has a lot to lose. It's up to him to lose the debate and if Brown relaxes, is as witty and quick and doesn't come down with a clunking fist, if he can play that game through four and a half hours of debate, he'll do very well – and that could make the difference.

Finally there are the turnouts, and that's the big thing for Labour. They need to get their troops out. At 75 per cent, Labour would have a majority. Now we had 75 per cent turnout, plus or minus 3 per cent, between 1945 and 1992.

Highlight Tory cuts

Justin Fisher, Professor of Political Science at Brunel University

One of the things that damaged the Conservatives initially in January, when they were in a very strong position, was their proposal to make severe cuts fairly shortly after the election. This helped spark the Labour revival. The thing for Labour to do would be to talk about cuts that most people would feel. Cuts to universities, for example, would only affect those working for and at universities. Cuts in schools and healthcare-spending are the sorts of things that might spark more interest.

For the Conservatives it's an uphill task now. They have weathered the storm recently without doing a great deal. The next month will concentrate the mind. Up to now, the Conservatives have been very good at not putting their foot in it too badly.

We will have to see how the Chris Grayling saga plays out. If David Cameron sacks the shadow Home Secretary, the Tories will sink into turmoil. The best that Cameron can do is to distance himself from Grayling.

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