Never fear Labour supporters, here's the latest messiah to solve all the party's problems in one fall swoop:
Purnell will declare today that Labour can still beat the Tories in the fight against poverty because it is willing to stump up the money and is committed to tax credits.
"Both their goal and their policies are just aspirations," Purnell will say.
Mocking the Conservatives' approach, he will say: "It would be nice to reduce child poverty. It would be nice to put more money into the working tax credit. But nice isn't good enough. Until they pass the test of hardening their commitment and costing their policy, they cannot claim to be committed to ending child poverty."
Ah, yes, child poverty. It's strange how this government's modest redistribution, so modest that it may have lifted some children out of poverty but has done nothing whatsoever to alter overall inequality, only gets mentioned when the going gets really tough. It screams of desperation, of someone begging their lover not to walk out the door, bumbling, "but, but, look at all we've done for the poor kids!" In any case, Labour's pledge to end child poverty is just as much an aspiration as the Conservatives' policy announcements are: it's simply unattainable and completely unrealistic without far more targeted help being provided, and Labour doesn't have either the will or the funds to do it with. The less said about tax credits, the most hopeless and over-egged panacea of all time, the better.
The whole Grauniad article on Purnell's rallying-cry is about as accurate a distillation as you could get of where Labour is still getting it hopelessly wrong. It treats us first to what this fight-back amounts to:
· An intensification of the government's implementation of the Australian-style points-based system which will tighten the criteria for foreign workers hoping to take up skilled jobs in Britain. Liam Byrne, the immigration minister, will attempt to outflank the Tories by saying that British jobseekers will "get the first crack of the whip", while only those foreign workers needed - and no more - will be allowed entry.
· A £78m boost for schools in disadvantaged areas of Greater Manchester and the Black Country to target funds at those where fewer than 30% of the pupils achieve five good GCSEs including English and maths.
· Senior Labour MPs said one of Gordon Brown's most serious embarrassments - his failure to appoint a general secretary of the Labour party - would be resolved. Ray Collins, a senior figure in the Transport and General Workers' section of the Unite union, is expected to be appointed after winning the support of Brown, who sees him as a unifying figure.
This is what it all adds up to then: flagellating the darkies a little harder for the benefit of the tabloids, parachuting in cash to schools where the Labour vote mostly held up, and err, appointing a new general secretary of the party itself. It's going to knock them bandy!
Just to add to the fun, there's Ed Balls with his own detailed analysis:
Ed Balls, the schools secretary, yesterday signalled a tougher approach by the government when he pledged to dissect Tory policies line by line now that David Cameron is seen as the prime minister in waiting.
"In every area we will challenge and scrutinise the Conservative position and expose their determination to protect excellence for the few and oppose our reforms to deliver excellence and opportunity for all," he said.
There's the whole problem in a nutshell. Labour is so concerned by what the Tories are doing that it's forgotten that it ought to be selling itself and developing new policies instead of "dissecting" the opposition's line by line. You weren't voted into power to attack and stalk the opposition; you were voted in to govern. Forget what they're doing and get on with showing why you deserve to remain in government, and you don't when you come up with such specious claptrap as claiming that your reforms have delivered excellence and opportunity for all when they clearly have not. There couldn't be a better example than Lord Darzi and Labour's apparent desire for the all-singing and all-dancing polyclinics: here's the party that claims it wants to engender choice while doing away with local GP services with almost no consultation whatsoever, leaving the Tories with the biggest open goal ever. Labour doesn't just want to shut your post office, they want to shut your GP surgery and possibly even your hospital too! It might not be entirely true, but it hits home.
It's really come to something when it's Charles Clarke of all people who is talking the most sense:
In his article, Clarke suggested a number of policy modifications, including a resolution of the 10p tax debacle, abandoning the extension of detention without trail [sic] to 42 days (intended for terrorism suspects), accepting House of Lords proposals on women's pensions, and suspending the "over-bureaucratic" review of post offices.
The problem with abandoning 42 days now is that it makes Gordon Brown look even weaker. 42 days is his initiative, borne of his apparent determination to be just as "tough on terror" as Blair was, just at the moment that the majority of the right-wing press has decided that such methods are counter-productive, the Sun being around the only newspaper which still supports the measure. If it was meant to show the Tories as being soft or to wrong-foot them, then it's failed miserably, especially as it seems that unless Brown wants to be defeated he'll need to drop the plans completely, concessions being unacceptable when it will still mean the prospect of those entirely innocent being held at the whim of the police for over a month. The Conservatives don't look weak; their arguments have held up while his have been left wanting, even if the public itself is supportive.
Clarke doesn't have a monopoly on getting it mostly right, however:
Looking ahead to May 22's key Crewe and Nantwich byelection, Clarke said that Labour's "all-consuming priority" should be to ensure that the defeat in the local elections was not repeated in the 2010 general election.
That would require changing Labour's recent, erratic short-term politics that had led to the "entirely unjustified" charge that Labour was mimicking Conservative proposals or following demands of the rightwing press, he said.
No, Labour's all-consuming priority should be governing and developing policy, not concentrating on winning an election two years' off. How Clarke can also claim that Labour isn't mimicking Conservative proposals or following the demands of the rightwing press when while he was Home Secretary one of his chief tasks was asking how high when the tabloids said jump is also beyond parody.
Clarke's obsession with power for power's sake is another of New Labour's emerging neuroses. Like the Conservatives after being dumped out in 97, they've came to the conclusion that they're the natural party of government, and that being voted out, or even the possibility of it is not so much a reflection on them but on the voters themselves. They've fallen into the same old trap of becoming the new establishment, and then when faced with the gathering storm fall into denial, buck-passing and outright bribery. Additionally, as with Boris Johnson, Labour is still making the mistake of both underestimating and slandering the Conservative leadership; yes, Cameron and Osborne might be public schoolboys and the product of Oxbridge, but then so was Tony Blair, and one or the other also applies to the vast majority of the cabinet. It's no coincidence that Alan Johnson, the former postman, received a standing ovation at the nurses' conference last week while Patricia Hewitt, the most patronising woman in politics was heckled and barracked on her last visit. Another man with the common touch, Jon Cruddas, said much the same in a Times interview today.
As previously noted, there isn't much that Labour can do to turn it around because the damage is almost certainly terminal. To even have a half-chance however, or to at least get past the Crewe by-election, it needs to either reverse the 10p tax rate abolition entirely or make completely crystal clear down to the last detail how it intends to compensate those that have lost out. It needs to stop worrying about what the Conservatives are doing and make clear what it is doing, beyond such bland generalities from Brown as feeling the hurt and pain as the economic downturn bites. Brown ought to swallow what remains of his pride and drop 42 days, which would be entirely the right thing to do however much short term pain it causes him. He could go further by scrapping ID cards, abandoning the increasingly irrelevant "rights and responsibilities" constitutional changes which couldn't seem more foolish, and as a further gesture that would signal real change, bring home the remaining troops from Basra. Then they could fully concentrate on, as Bob Piper suggests, pensioner poverty and social housing. All of this might do nothing more than staunch the bleeding without healing the wound, but it would be a start. There is however no sign whatsoever that even these small steps will be taken up, and with them the Conservatives will only continue to watch and wait.
Labels: 10p tax rate, Charles Clarke, death of Labour, Gordon Brown, James Purnell, Labour relaunch, local elections aftermath, New Labour, politics