he arrival of David Cameron as
Tory leader has significantly altered the political
landscape in a sense that was not the case with
the other three post-Major Tory leaders; because
Cameron has clearly signified that the Tory party
is moving leftwards from their previous position
to one much closer to that of the current government.
This may be a cause for self-congratulation for
New Labour – ‘we have established a
new consensus’ – ‘the Tories
are dancing to our tune’ etc., but it does
not follow that Labour will win again in 2009.
The same could have been said of New Labour by
the Tories in 1995. If the choice in 2009 is between
two parties offering broadly the same thing it
will be between a shop-soiled government led by
an ageing Brown contrasted to a fresh, if largely
untried team (but so were New Labour) led by a
vigorous and youthful Cameron. Moreover the continuation
of Blairite policy between now and then will result
in growing fractiousness and rebellion among Labour
MPs, as the period since the election has made
clear. New Labour could resemble the post 92 Major
government, with no shortage of Labour ‘bastards’.
Such public division will be as electorally damaging
as it was then for the Tories.
The Tory move to the centre is not without its
difficulties, as the cries of anguish from the
Mail, Telegraph and Norman Tebbit have made clear.
Right wing votes could go to UKIP, the BNP, or
just nowhere, but provided that on the talismanic
issue of Europe Cameron maintains a sceptical stance
the vast majority of the Tory right will remain
loyal, particularly if victory appears a possibility.
MPs and candidates will not rock the boat, and
the party will appear more united than it really
And they will win. The middle class elements who
deserted the Tories in 1997 – Middle England – will
return to the Tory fold, reassured by that nice
Mr. Cameron and his really quite sensible policies.
But those who deserted Labour or didn’t vote
last year will have no reason not to maintain that
position, even if their vote doesn’t go to
the Lib Dems next time.
Blair, together with various MPs and commentators
have said that to turn left at this juncture would
be suicidal. The reality is the complete opposite.
The only way that Labour can win the next election
is by turning left.
If Middle England moves back to the Tories in
2009, Labour will lose unless it manages to win
back the votes of those sections of the electorate
whose natural focus would be Labour but who have
either transferred their vote to other parties
or have stopped voting. Prominent among the latter
category are younger people, particularly the under
25s. and those in social classes D and E. The former
category includes mainly leftish middle class voters
alienated over Iraq, attracted to the Lib Dem’s
more radical policies over taxation and student
fees and wanting to ensure that Labour’s
majority last year was reduced without the Tories
winning – a dangerous tactic but one that
If the support that Labour needs to win, or win
back has been correctly identified then policy
prescriptions fall into two categories – policies
likely to appeal to those wanting to see more radical
policies domestically and internationally without
necessarily wanting to immediately improve their
own material situation, and policies designed to
improve the material position of various groups
including students, those with housing difficulties,
the low paid, those on benefits and pensioners.
Policies to help the latter category would by and
large appeal to the former, although not necessarily
However, none of this can begin to happen without
the long awaited handover to Brown. (There is realistically
no other possible candidate at this stage.) If
Blair realizes, or agrees, that he is now an electoral
liability and that there is insufficient support
within the PLP for the current reforms being attempted
in education and health, and announces that they
are being put on hold and that he will stand down
as soon as a new leader is elected, then there
is some hope. If however Blair continues to push
his reforms and the civil war within the PLP continues,
(and at the time of writing there is every sign
that he and it will) then Labour’s electoral
fate in 2009 is sealed, even if a forced leadership
election secured a Brown victory later this year.
But what if Blair did the decent thing and there
was a painless handover? Brown is to a considerable
degree an unknown quantity. What are his real views
on say Iraq, health and education? Are his differences
with Blair about his succession or policy? We don’t
really know, but it seems reasonable to assume
that because of his general outlook and concerns,
not withstanding his adherence to neo-liberal economic
policies, there would be a greater emphasis on
traditional Labour policies and goals, thus creating
a changed climate in which the left would be in
a stronger position to assert themselves.
So what of the policies that would be necessary
in order for Labour to win in 2009? The halting
of the current education and health reforms should,
after an appropriate reevaluation, lead to a renewal
of the local authority role in education and an
end to private sector involvement and selection,
perhaps abolishing the remaining grammar schools.
Further, the marketisation and privatization of
health should be ended and the emphasis on choice
replaced by that of decent local provision, with
efficiency secured by rigorous monitoring.
However, the issue that caused the greatest defection
from Labour at the last election was Iraq, and
this cannot be sidestepped if that support is to
be won back, no matter how attractive other policies
might be. The priority should be withdrawal, following
which, and after appropriate debate, Labour must
take the view that in hindsight it regrets going
to war in Iraq and would in future work more closely
with the UN and its European partners, with a resolution
of the Palestine issue being seen as central to
securing progress in the Middle East and in addressing
the problem of terror. Without such a change of
position Labour is doomed, and it’s not beyond
the bounds of possibility that Cameron’s
Tories might also try and trump Labour by coming
out against the war. Opposition was never confined
to the left, and in military circles it is and
always has been substantial.
Labour should also indicate its intention to promote
better relationships with other social democratic
governments and parties and seek to distance itself
from the Bush government. Other measures should
include the completion of House of Lords reform
with an elected chamber, a serious attempt to honour
the Warwick Agreement with the trade unions, a
substantial boost to the minimum wage, the abolition
of university tuition fees, a renewal of council
house building and renting via the ‘Fourth
option’, as part of a general drive to build
more houses, the provision of free personal care
for the elderly, the payment of the ‘guarantee’ pension,
now available on a means tested basis, to all at
age 75, reform of the regressive Council Tax, no
ID cards, an end to the harsher curbs on civil
liberties and an end to the royal prerogative as
exercised by the PM and the monarch. (This is going
further than Cameron.)
As well as appealing to the left generally these
policies should be attractive to students, (who
swung heavily to the Lib Dems last year) the D
and E social groups which largely consist of council/social
tenants, the low paid and pensioners.
For those in the D/E social groups it is a matter
of increasing their turnout – only 54% voted
last year against 61% of the population as a whole.
Pensioners (over 65) have by contrast a high turnout – 75%
last year. For them it is a question of winning
votes from the Tories, who still, amazingly, command
a substantial lead for this group over Labour.
(41% to 35% last year). Hence the emphasis on policies
for this group, a proportion of whose votes must
swing to Labour if a Cameron victory is to be avoided.
It is only substantial, but quite justifiable reforms
such as these that will achieve that, and Brown’s
curmudgeonly response to the Turner proposal to
pay the full pension at 75 indicates his failure
to understand that.
How would these policies be paid for? The commitment
not to raise income tax before the election would
have to be honoured, but it would be more appropriate
anyway to pay for the personal care and pensioner
reforms by abolishing the ceiling on national insurance
contributions which is anyway anomalous and unjustifiable.
This would mean an effective higher tax rate of
51%, as opposed to 41% now, which could be modified
for those earning less than £100K. The student
reforms should be met through a graduate tax, new
housing infrastructure through a betterment levy
on land. Corporation tax, low by European standards,
should be increased for larger firms, and the two
new planned, and ludicrously expensive aircraft
carriers should be cancelled. Costings done for
the Lib Dem manifesto last year, which included
some of these policies, indicate that these measures
would be more than sufficient to fund the proposed
These reforms should be presented as building
upon Labour’s previous (i.e. until now)
achievements in reducing poverty for children,
the low paid and pensioners, and in better funding
for education and health. But most of ‘Middle
revert back to the Tories – they will be
paying more in tax, and most of the suggested
reforms are aimed at the less well off, although
as argued above their return to the Tories would
have happened anyway with a continuation of Blairism.
Big business too will return having fallen out
with Labour despite all attempts at accommodation.
It also goes without saying that the Sun would
revert to backing the Tories.
But such a programme
of reforms, albeit mild, would re-activate
many dormant activists within the party and
lead others to rejoin, ensuring a healthy campaign
for Labour on the ground at the next election.
But most importantly it would be designed to
win back the votes of those who had given up
on Labour and attract new votes, but only a
substantial programme such as that outlined
above is likely to do that.
Labour should campaign in 2009 on the basis
of such a programme and the promise of further
radical measures in the Manifesto. But would
Brown have the will, bottle and capacity to
lead Labour in such a direction? Will he be
given the chance? We have to wait and see,
but if Labour is to remain in power there is,
as someone once said, no alternative.