Post-election silver lining… a move to the left

Following Labour’s disastrous showing in last week’s local and London mayoral elections, the Tories have every right to gloat.

For Labour, it’s bitching season with confessionals from people with books to sell like Cherie Blair, Lord Levy and, much more surprisingly, John Prescott who, until now, I’ve had a lot of time for. While it’s clear that Frank Field, the welfare state theorist who simply didn’t make the grade as a minister, is guilty of wishful thinking when he predicts Brown’s demise, Gordon must feel like Julius Caesar.

Yet summer and autumn 2007 saw Telegraph opinion writers fretting that the Brown Bounce would deliver Labour a victory of 1997 proportions. The key to winning over the electorate is to show leadership. Brown had had to deal with the bombing of Glasgow Airport, the floods and foot and mouth and performed admirably through it all. Thankfully, we’ve not faced a similar crisis since and, fatally, he’s been transformed into a ditherer.

Any major political party is a coalition of interests and views, with those factions who haven’t got their way keeping quite when elections are being won, only to say ‘I told you so’ when things don’t look so good.

Those who like to think themselves on the left of the Labour Party, including some whose hearts still flutter at the sight of Stalinist military displays, are pushing a May Manifesto. I might agree with most of this, but it’s vague, simplistic back of a fag packet stuff. It also contains some silliness, like the claim that public services are being privatised. Awarding contracts to private businesses does not amount to taking control of those services out of public hands and where it delivers value for money to taxpayers is a very good thing. Meanwhile, there’s no credit for the creeping nationalisation of frontline NHS services. While still a minority, more and more GPs and dentists are leaving the private sector to be employed directly by the NHS and work out of NHS run facilities and this too is a very good thing. More to the point, the May Manifesto’s impact will be negligible.

The greater opportunity to move the left and pursue a social democratic agenda is handed to Brown by the Tory leader. David Cameron is still trying to position himself as a progressive, who cares about poverty, inequality and the environment. He even talks of turning the Crewe & Nantwich by-election into a referendum on the abolition of the 10p tax rate (not something he’d bring back, mind). So a vote for the Conservatives is a vote for Labour’s traditional goal of social justice.

The political right are fighting hard on tax with ever more hysterical claims, but with no pressure to take the country to the right, Gordon has a golden opportunity show real leadership and move leftward by promoting the just society to which the Tories pay only lip service.

The 10p tax mistake, say, could be largely mitigated by increasing the minimum wage; something a job creating economy could easily absorb (and it increases the tax take).

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