Has the Guardian columnist got the right approach for Labour?
There’s an interesting critique of the government’s legislative programme in the Guardian this morning from the writer who used to be one of Brown’s greatest cheer-leaders – Polly Toynbee.
Her argument is that Labour needs to develop a rhetoric that goes well beyond the term “aspire” that seems to have been the guiding force behind the Queen’s Speech. Polly suggests that insteads the notion on “fairness to all” could be the “thread” that links everything the government is trying to do.
Toynbee writes:-“Brown’s political programme needs a story, a narrative, a red thread to stitch it together and embroider a picture of the society he wants, so everyone can see it. Without signposts, voters are lost. “Aspiration”, the poor old Queen said over and over, but it’s vacuous: there’s an estate agent in south London called “Aspire”. Brown’s other favourite word – “change” – is just as empty, but his e-message to the Labour party faithful laboriously hammered it out eight times in less than a page. They are words deliberately chosen for their lack of left/right political meaning. They are safety-first, centre-ground words. Is centre what he wants to be?..
…If, as his people say, Gordon Brown is driven by a strong sense of social justice, why not say so? (And don’t do those things that don’t fit the rubric – cutting inheritance tax, or detention without trial). But he chokes on the words as if they would cause his political death. He thinks Cameron will be seen off by his “Â£6bn black hole” the way Kinnock was done in by wrong numbers back in 1992 – but it’s not so. Cameron is starting to win the argument that the state wastes money and never delivers. Weird and wonderful Tory co-ops of parents, charities, volunteers and other tax-free mirages can make public services better. Why? Because people are not seeing Labour signposts pointing anywhere else, no red thread stitching another picture. Politics needs theatre – though not necessarily in the Commons.”
The challenge, as the party appears to see it, is that whatever rhetoric is used it has to appeal to the centre ground. The main thinking is that it is those voters who switched from John Major in 1997 that Labour needs to keep on board – not core party supporters who will be there whatever Labour proposes. Brown also has to find a way of getting back at least some of the 6% of the electorate who switched from Labour to Charles Kennedy’s Lib Dems last time. What messages are going to work for them?
In many ways, though, a core votes strategy makes sense for Labour in a way that it doesn’t for the Tories. For the heart of Labour’s electoral challenge is simply to get those who support the party out to vote. Poll after poll shows the big gap between those who say they are Labour and those prepared to go to the polling station.
Maybe Polly has got a point.
PBC Lib Dem leadership hustings – a new thread will be published at 8.45am ahead of this morning’s session with Nick Clegg. He is due to be with us for an hour from 9am.