“At our best when at our boldest“: the words of one Tony Blair to Labour’s party conference in 2002 – whatever happened to him?
Labour is – despite the cynics who may argue otherwise – a centre-left party, not a centre-right one. Labour’s centre-left credentials since 1997 have been impressive: the introduction of the minimum wage, the abolition of the assisted places scheme, more help for pensioners, removal of the hereditary principle in the Lords, huge investment in the NHS, debt cancellation etc, etc. The problem is that many of these radical and socially progressive initiatives were carried out during the first term. Since 2001 Labour has been, on the whole, competent but not radical, managerial but not inspirational.
As Labour gears up for the next election it is clear that Gordon Brown will need to emphasise his and his party’s centre-left credentials and spell out exactly what his ‘fairness’ agenda will mean in terms of outcomes for the British people. If he is to have any chance of turning Labour’s (and his own) fortunes around then he will need to be ‘bold’ not ‘timid’ Gordon.
Strangely, I am more optimistic about Labour’s future today than I was a week ago. Why? Firstly, last week’s ‘snowstorm in a tea cup’ coup has ended up uniting the party and should embolden Brown in his resolve to go after the Tories. Secondly, the tumultuous events in the world’s financial markets in the past few months have offered Labour a unique opportunity to stage a fightback and to put some clear red water between themselves and the City-friendly Tories.
ConservativeHome yesterday gleefully reported on Boris Johnson’s challenge to George Osborne to abolish Labour’s supertax on bankers’ bonuses, stating that many of the capital’s leading financial institutions have intimated to him (Johnson) that significant numbers of their highest paid staff are considering relocating from London as a direct consequence of Darling’s ‘super-penalising’ measure.
The truth is, talking about such issues could well be fertile ground for Labour and make life distinctly uncomfortable for David Cameron and his front bench. Cameron’s Conservatives are made up of the “right kind of people”, his people – privately educated and from backgrounds of immense wealth and privilege. Under Cameron, the Tories still believe that the role of government is to concentrate wealth and power in the hands of those who embrace their political, economic, and social views. For these reasons, Cameron would be reluctant to get into a debate about the super-rich and what they should or should not contribute via the tax system.
According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the highest-earning 0.1% of the UK population enjoy an average annual income of £780,043. This is around 31 times higher than the national average income of £24,000. Given the present context, and given Gordon’s commitment to fairness and equity, surely a national debate (led by Brown) about whether the very wealthy should contribute a bit more through the tax system would be most welcome.
These past few years the public has watched on in horror and disgust at the City traders who deliberately bid down bank shares, bet on the failure of key stock and companies and even – it is suggested – spread false rumours in order to line their own already very deep and very full pockets. If the Tories wish to seek to defend these excesses – in the manner in which, at the opposite end of the scale they opposed the minimum wage and defended poverty pay – then they will find themselves on the wrong side of the argument and, as this week’s latest poll findings indicate, further confirm the public’s view that Mr Cameron is on the side of the rich and not the ordinary ‘hard working’ families that he talks about so frequently.
As Gordon and his handpicked ‘A Team‘ begin to further define the dividing lines for the coming election, the PM should not be afraid of taking a bold approach. He has little to lose either personally or politically but both he and the nation have, potentially, a good deal to gain.