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Start of a new approach from Labour?

Posted on 10 March 2009 | 9:03am

Greetings from a beautiful Hampshire countryside hotel where I am due to make a speech to business leaders about leadership. 

So out early to the hotel gym and how refreshing it was to hear on the news that the government is unveiling the next stages of public service reform. 

The main focus for the TV people seemed to be the idea of cutting down on the time it takes for teacher training for some of the brightest and the best who have been affected by the recession.

We had the usual and rather depressing instant negative reaction from the teaching unions, and a rather good defence from Cabinet Office minister Liam Byrne. 

I had already scribbled my notes for the speech and ‘adaptability’ was number 3 in my list of ten rules for leadership. This falls under that category, adapting to one set of circumstances – recession – to make progress in another area of priority – education. 

But whether teaching reform, nursing reform or some of the measures to reduce red tape, it was just so good to hear about health and education once more. These are going to be key areas of the political battleground for the future and it is time Labour did a better job of showing – first, that we have a record to be proud of, second that we have ideas for the future and third that the Tory policies (if that does not overstate the proposals they have bought forward) do not survive serious analysis and attack. 

Of course the economy is key to what the government is trying to do. But we have to shake off defensiveness, stop being shy about the record (because that is key to winning trust for the future) and start exposing the Tory policies for what they are – half-baked, uncosted, and inconsistent with their economic approach. 

There are some hospitals in our country with 90 per cent satisfaction ratings. Even North Korea don’t get that kind of support in polls. Likewise despite the torrent of negativity in the national media, almost all of whose editors use private education, standards and satisfaction in state schools are rising. 

The Tories under Mrs Thatcher never tired of setting out the record and hammering the policies of their opponents. Even while setting out reforms for the future, it is time Labour did the same. I hope today was the start of a new approach.

  • Rob Atkins

    Yes Mr Campbell, I am waiting with bated breath for an unexpurgated statement of Labour’s achievements over the last 12 years, and the ‘Brown legacy’. Dr Eamonn Butler’s had a pretty good go at it with his forthcoming book ‘The Rotten State of Britain’. What will the Labour Party call their version : ‘How many noughts in a trillion ?’ or ‘Bankrupting Britain : The Sequel’, or ‘This Thatcherism is more complicated than it looked, isn’t it ?’ Answers on a postcard.

  • IH

    The Tories under Thatcher were v effective at painting themselves as the party of progress and Labour as the party of the 1970s. what labour has needed for a long time is a winning narrative – what the party’s achieved, what it wants to do and why the tories would take us backwards. labour needs to sound confident of its case.

    Labour ministers also need to do more to help brown. like kinnock before, all tory attacks are aimed at him personally. likewise, ministers need to develop and stick to an effective line against cameron.

  • Tony

    I have been saying for a long time that the Labour Party should get off the back foot and try and be more positive. Attack the Tories and be positive about the Labour Parties achievements.

    Yes, the economy is clearly not in a good state but there’s a long time to go before an election and hitting the Tories on their lack of policy whilst at the same time hammering home what has been successful under Labour might actually help.

  • Jonathan

    Terrific idea for Labour to fight on its record. Would recommend that you give specific prominence to the following:

    1. Despite raiding the pension funds and increasing the tax burden by means of stealth and subterfuge, Gordon Brown still has nothing in the piggy bank to tide us over the bad times. Turns out “Prudence” and “No return to boom and bust” was just spin.

    2. Everyone (apart from Gordon that is) appears to agree that Britain is in a worse position than other countries to deal with the recession. “Global problem” my foot.

    3. Oh, and I realise most people don’t care about this, but it turns out that this Labour party has produced one of the most illiberal governments in recent memory. Yes, let’s lock someone up for 90 days without trial because the police say he might be thinking about doing something bad. (These, by the way, are the same police who gun down a poor Brazilian electrician because their surveillance procedure is utterly incompetent). No protests on Parliament Green thank you as it might embarrass us. We don’t like Sir Fred very much, so how about some retrospective confiscatory legislation targeted at him personally?

    Sorry Alastair. I like your blog and everything. I find myself feeling pleased when Burnley do well (except against Arsenal, that is). But Gordon Brown and this lot are finished and I think we are well rid.

  • Robert Massey

    I quite agree that it’s about time we started talking up our achievements. Last week I did an interview with Dispatches on our BSF rebuilds (I’m in Lewisham) as part of their programme on waste in the public sector. They conveniently ignored our set of excellent and popular new school buildings. Instead it was easier to give airtime to one parent with a far left background who opposes a particular rebuild on ideological grounds (i.e. saying no to any reform whatsoever). Putting an objective view would be very welcome!

  • Patricia Hess

    The new pyjamas campaign is raising finds for a new Sick Kids hospital in Edinburgh, to be built by 2012.

    The hospital treats children and young people from all over Scotland and, in intensive care, from all over the UK.

    To join our social networking site, look at our website

  • Alina Palimaru

    To Rob Atkins: Buy the March 19 edition of The New Statesman and you’ll find out!

    To Tony: It’s not that the Tories do not have policies. They do, but they are so bloody atrocious… All we have to do is expose them and demonstrate their poor judgment!

    To Jonathan: Buy the March 19 edition of The New Statesman, which will explain why Britain is better positioned now than you think (compared to Britain under Tories and to other countries)…

  • Rob Atkins

    “compared to Britain under the Tories” !! What sort of a fantasy is this ? Britain hasn’t been under the Tories, in case you hadn’t noticed. It’s been a Labour Government that’s presided over the biggest boom and bust for nearly a century, and is now busy blaming everybody else (i) the Americans (except when Brown is in America, when he unaccountably forgot to mention that little soundbite)(ii) the bankers (except Blank and Daniels, who he encouraged to destroy their good bank by baling out the failed Scottish bank, and whose departure would raise yet more embarrassing questions) and (iii) if you listened to You & Yours today, everybody else (except one Mr Brown, who got everything right and has nothing to apologise for)

    Rather than fantasising about his own omniscience, a bit more humility and ownership of the peculiarly British dimensions of the problem that he helped to create might make him marginally more respectable. As it is, he insults our intelligence with his pathetic excuses.

  • Neil Jackson

    With all that’s gone on, Alastair, do you think you have blood on your hands?
    Neil Jackson

  • Alan Quinn

    I’m a governor of a primary schol in Bury, pre 1997 we didn’t have a PC in the school, we had education cuts instead.
    Now, we have a computer suite with a PC for each pupil and all the classrooms have interactive white boards.
    My eldest son went to this school then to the local comprehensive secondary school which, incidentally has just had a £7 million extension. He’s now at university studying medicine via an extra course funded by Labour to provide more doctors.
    My youngest daughter has had two heart operations, one in 1994 when half the cardiac ward was closed due to tory cuts, the other in 2007 with the hospital fully open and looking to expand.
    That’s why I’m Labour.

  • Emilianna

    Health and education are two issues the electorate consistently ranks at the top of its concerns yet governments often seem to put them both on the back burner, especially education.

    The fast-track training is a brilliant idea. We need government to be proactive and come up with initiatives that foster long-term economic self-reliance.

    BTW, am I the only one who finds it interesting that practically every solution to this global crisis has its roots in left-leaning ideology? When we’ve risen from the ashes, I hope voters across the West will oppose a no-holds barred free market and find a renewed appreciation for their own governmental institutions and all the benefits that strong and substantive policy can bring to their world and their daily lives.

    I do, however, worry about unyielding unions. In North America, Gettlefinger of the UAW made a statement to the press before Christmas, one that was so wrong-headed, so suicidal — this isn’t the right climate for knee-jerk reactions and defensiveness.

    Alina: It’s clear to me that Britain possesses the tools (strong institutions, social programs, ability to print money) to rise from this global crisis.

    As far as the Tories go, I simply don’t trust them to regulate the financial sector in any meaningful way.


    P.S.: I’m heartened at learning that people in Britain still debate private versus state schools. Across the pond, it’s a non-issue.

  • Alina Palimaru

    To Neil Jackson: I have the same answer for you as for all the other schmucks who ask that question. Move on! That page was turned a long time ago!

    To Alan Quinn: BRAVO!