Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Day in the Life of the Labour party

I was going to blog on the budget, but it was so interminably dull that I'm not going to bother. However, Alistair Darling's speech from the dispatch box was helpful in one respect.

In these series of posts I've tried to sketch out the overarching themes and priorities of each party. Before yesterday, try as I might, I couldn't figure out what Labour's big picture was. Now, I've got it and it boils down to one word. Recovery.

We'll look after the economy better than the Tories and we'll still look after health and education. Although you hate and loathe us you still deep down have some grudging trust that we'll do OK with these three key areas. The Labour party's latest attack ad features Tory Chancellor 'Boy George' with the strap line 'When it comes to the recovery he wouldn't know where to start'. The entire Labour election campaign rests on a well worn proverb: 'better the devil you know'. 

I'll start with the positive. Labour have done a good job with the NHS. Their boast that 'We created it, we saved it, we value it and we will always support it' is a fair one. In 1997 it was as common to take political chunks out of the NHS as it is the BBC today. Now it is unthinkable for the Tories to contemplate dismantling a system that is based on the principle of free at the point of need.

The manifold problems with the 'trust Old Harry' argument start after that.

I hardly meet a teacher any more that has anything positive to say about the target culture, the national curriculum or discipline in schools.

There are undoubtedly some brilliant schools managed wonderfully by superb head teachers, but these seem to be in spite of the Labour regime not because of it. Yes, they've put a lot of money into schools (and many excellent new school buildings), but they seem to get themselves in a terrible initiative-itis muddle in how to use it.

One pedagogical victory for them - when was the last time you heard someone say 'those that can't, teach?'.

And the economy. I worked for 3 years in the Citizens' Advice Bureau from 2005 watching people stagger in with debt up to their eyeballs in times of economic plenty. How long can this go one we asked?

The golden Brown years were fuelled by mortgaging our future with consumer credit. One of David Cameron's best lines was that Labour 'failed to fix the roof whilst the sun was shining'.

I need more than 'fear the incompetent/evil Tories' from Labour, yet when I look beyond the gloss they seem all over the place. I respected David Milliband's and Hillary Benn's effort in the run up to Copenhagen climate summit, but they haven't grasped the environmental nettle properly at home. I liked Alistair Darling's straight talking today, but he gets knocked back by the rest of his party for his trouble. Where is the coherent vision and leadership for the next parliament? Where do Labour want to go?

In honour of Labour's loss of direction I have nominated The Beatles' A Day in the Life as their anthem on this blog. The song takes us through the journey of someone not quite sure where they are going with a subdued air of of nostalgia for past glories. As John Lennon sings this 'News is rather sad'.

The lyrics are disjointed jumping from subject to subject each stanza and the melody doesn't stick with the normal verse /chorus outline.

The famous and unexpected take off in the middle sounds like a desperate attempt to launch a new policy initiative. They emerge only with something  small, useful and popular, but hardly enough to smooth the bumps in Labour's road:
I read the news today oh, boy / Four thousand holes in blackburn, lancashire / And though the holes were rather small / They had to count them all / Now they know how many holes it takes to fill the albert hall.

The Labour party have stirring values of social justice, strong community and rights matched by responsibilities. Our economic recovery is likely to be slow and difficult - Labour's recovery of their vision and purpose could take even longer.

1 comment:

  1. In the meantime, the Conservatives have taken great inspiration from Iain Duncan Smith's work at the Centre for Social Justice. This is not a new value for Conservatives, but the holiday has been a long one. The values that encourage politicians to reshape society for the better are widely shared, despite the low ebb their reputation has fallen to. IF the Conservatives are elected, let's hope and pray some of those CSJ ideas have the momentum to take hold.