By David Beeson
The moment of choice has finally been confirmed. So it’s time we were absolutely clear what the choice involves.
On the one hand, Gordon Brown is committing Labour to two great areas of endeavour.
The first is the ‘steady as she goes’ area: it’s maintaining the recovery that is already under way. In among all the sniping that there’s been over recent weeks about Labour, let’s once more underline one of its greatest assets – to the surprise of many, the quiet man of the Labour front bench, Alastair Darling, has proved himself one of the great chancellors, steering the economy through probably the most difficult economic conditions that the world has known since the end of the Second World War. Like many quiet men, when he speaks, what he says is to the point and well worth listening to.
The Brown-Darling team promised to bring us out of recession, and they’ve done it. Now they are promising to keep building on those foundations. Throughout their hard work to get us here, the Tories were constantly clamouring for change, demanding a different approach pretty well every time they opened their mouths on the subject. When it comes to further steady progress based on the solid work already done, it’s clear that Brown and Darling are head and shoulders above the opposition.
The second area of promised Labour endeavour is the new impetus to reform and change. Above all, this will affect the constitution with changes to the minimum voting age and to the composition of the House of Lords. Of course, there will be critics who will say that Labour should have forced reform of the House of Lords through earlier, and I would probably agree with them. I would simply argue that it’s better to have the upper house reformed now than not at all. It certainly won’t be reformed if the Tories take office: it was they, after all, who were most vociferous in opposing changes in the past. A re-elected Labour government reforming the House of Lords would be a triumph to crown the constitutional changes of the first term, including devolution and the passing of the Human Rights Act.
Not everyone will want these things, though. They will want to look to the opposition to see what they offer instead.
On the economy, the opposition’s views could not be clearer. To the Tories the key priority has to be reducing the government deficit. Nothing will deflect them from that, except perhaps to reduce inheritance tax, from which their major contributors will disproportionately benefit; or to reverse Labour’s proposed increase in national insurance contributions, because though reducing the deficit is key, nothing is more key than trying to bribe us with our own money in an attempt to shore up their shrinking poll lead.
Still, it’s absolutely clear. The top priority for the Tories is the deficit. Or perhaps it isn’t. You can be in no doubt about that.
On the social front, Cameron has proudly declared that he is going to speak for the “great ignored”. And, indeed, his colleagues are going to make sure that there are even more of them. For example, his home affairs spokesman Chris Grayling has made it clear that he intends to ignore the rights of gay people to stay in Bed and Breakfasts on the same grounds of equality as straight people.
Cameron also says he will clean up politics after the years of sleaze. To make sure that this message is clearly understood, he has taken on Andrew Coulson as his Communications Director, who resigned from the editorship of the News of the World over a phone tapping scandal – which has still not been properly investigated. So you can be sure Cameron knows a lot about those significant public figures who like to behave as though they were above mere law.
In case he needs any advice on the subject, he can of course turn to the Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, Michael Ashcroft, and ask him about the ethics of wanting to make or influence laws for a country whose taxes you refuse to pay in full.
Oh, yes, the choice this time round is very clear. And Labour’s constantly strengthening poll position shows just how clear it has become.