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Right pledges, at the right time

Posted on 27 March 2010 | 11:03am

The Labour pledge card has been an important part of every campaign since 1997.

The cards help set out priorities. In addition to attracting widespread media coverage, they are, more importantly, a useful basis for doorstep communications and further campaign materials.

Thirteen years on from the first one, they are also a reminder of what Labour has done in the past. I used to be able to recite the ’97 pledges in my sleep, but had to look them up just now, having forgotten two of them

Halve the time it takes to get persistent young offenders to court a pledge met.

Cut class sizes to 30 or under for all 5-7 year olds – met.

Cut NHS waiting times – met.

Get 250,000 young people into work through the New Dealmet and exceeded.

No increase in income tax, cut VAT on heating to 5% and keep inflation and interest rates as low as possible.  

The pledge card 2010, launched by Gordon Brown today, is both more general and more specific than some of its predecessors.

More general in that the pledges on the front – secure the recovery, raise family living standards, build a high tech economy, protect frontline services and strengthen fairness in communities – speak mainly to broad themes on which Labour’s campaign will be based.

But the reverse of the card (with variations for Scotland and Wales) has more policy detail than some of its earlier versions, showing another dividing line with the Tories – Labour policy-rich, the Tories policy-lite.

Secure the recovery and halve the deficit through economic growth, fair taxes and cuts to low priority spending

Raise family living standards keeping mortgage rates as low as possible; increasing tax credits for families with young children; providing new help for first-time buyers; and restoring the link between the state pension and earnings from 2012.

Build a high-tech economy, supporting business and industry to create 1 million more skilled jobs and modernising our infrastructure with High-Speed Rail, a Green Investment Bank, and broadband access for all.

Protect frontline investment in policing, schools, childcare and the NHS, with a new guarantee of cancer test results within a week.

Strengthen fairness in communities through an Australian style points-based system to control immigration; guaranteed education, apprenticeships and jobs for young people; and a crack down on anti-social behaviour.

It is no surprise that three of the pledges relate to the economy. This may be an attempt to win a fourth term. But this is actually the first post-economic crisis election, and the ramifications of that extraordinary global event frame the choice and make this perhaps the most significant election since ’97.

In an interview in The Guardian today, GB seems to have rediscovered a lot of the confidence required for the fight ahead. Elections are gruelling, especially for the leaders, and confidence and momentum are key.

But whatever the criticism the pledges draw from the media and Oppositions that they are ‘too vague’ (I’ve been hearing it all morning), Labour can be confident that they are placing the right issues at the centre of the forthcoming campaign at the right time, with the manifesto itself still to come, and the Tories feeling the beginning of electoral heat on their lack of policy substance.

I would also love to know, if the Tories were similarly to do a pledge card, what they would go for. Do they have enough policy to stretch to five yet? And if they did, would they be able to agree on them?

* Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour

  • Paddy Briggs

    You can sell someone rubbish once – but they don’t come back for more. The disasterous Tory campaigns of 1997, 2001 and 2005 showed that appealing to the base instincts of people just doesn’t work. So why have the Tories got Andy Coulson and Lynton Crosby in their team? They are far more in the Malcolm Tukcer mould then you ever were Alastair!

  • Dave

    Im listening to you on soccer AM as I write this.

    We may agree on most things, but on this occation
    Up The Hammers

  • Harriet Pearse

    GB looking good on the telly right now. Candidates looking young end energetic. Let’s see more of the next generation the whole time. Tories on the run. Go get them

  • Pauline MArshall

    I preferred the very specific ones of 97 but in a way these more general arguments help Gordon’s style a bit more. There are a lot of differences between leaders and parties and the more people see of Cameron the less inspired they seem to be because he never makes big arguments

  • arresta

    Anyone interested in learning the current mindset of the core tory voters should visit Simon Heffer’s online blog at The Telegraph. Apart from the article itself, which has more than a whiff of panic about it, (sack Osborne and replace him with Clark), do read the comments below it which are eye-wateringly funny. The contributors are, without exception, barking mad but their total contempt for Cameron and Osborne tells you more about the current state of the tory party and their supporters expectations for the forthcoming election than any polls will.

  • Charlie

    It is nice to see a slightly less self righteous and spiteful blog today.

    I notice that you do not comment on Pledge No 5 from 1997. I wonder why?

    Surely even the most rabid Socialist can see that all this marvellousness has to be paid for. Yes we all want what Gordon is going to pledge tomorrow ie:

    – secure the recovery;
    – raise family living standards;
    – build a hi-tech economy;
    – protect frontline investment in policing, schools, childcare and the NHS – with a new guarantee of cancer test results within a week;
    – and strengthen fairness in communities through controlled immigration, guarantees of education, apprenticeships and jobs for young people and a crackdown on antisocial behaviour.

    But not at the ludicrous price that Labour has been prepared to pay.

    What voters will realise is that in the course of achieving the 4 1997 Pledges that you do comment on, and other things, Gordon has racked up the biggest debt that this Country has ever seen. This is not clever, it is irresponsible lunacy.

    We will have to live within our means for a while in order to correct the excesses of 13 years of Prodigal Brown.

  • Republican

    These pledges are so bland and broad they’re meaningless. Much like the appalling Tory ones. Labour should define this as being purely about the economy, where they have competitive advantage, and then hammer away at that. This should be coupled with a hard edged negative campaign. All this stuff you’re defending here is a complete waste of time and no one will hear it. You’ve lost your touch.

  • Alan Quinn

    High skilled jobs are essential so we also need to protect the ones we currently have in the defence sector.Vince Cable said on the Jeremy Vine show he would cut the Typhoon aircraft, Osborne said the same thing in September.The tories Liam Fox has stated he would prefer to buy “off the shelf” American equipment rather than UK made kit.
    Considering that there are 300,000 workers in the defence industry, most of them in marginal constituncies Unite could send a direct mail telling its members of the consequences of a tory government or one that relied on Libdem support.
    All our defence needs can be met by cancelling the |Trident replacement which seems to be on the cards more as both the US and Russia have agreed to cut their nukes.

    As I’ve said before we need the high speed trains, the nuclear power plants, wind turbines and fibre optic cables to be UK made.

  • Simon Gittins

    Absolutely meaningless, much the same as the pledge ‘halve the budget deficit in four years. The only certainty about another 5 years of a Labour government is more lies, sleaze and incompetence.
    Who on earth would trust a party with a record for broken promises, remember the promised referendum on the Lison treaty ?
    Who would vote for a party now synonymous with sleaze ?…Morley,Chaytor,Devine,Uddin,Hoon,Hewitt,Moran…..the list goes on
    Who would vote for a party that after 13 years in power presides over an economy that is in it’s worst mess for over 50 years ?
    5 more year of Labour would be a disaster !

  • Charlie

    Simon Heffer and his anti-Cameron stance are well known. They are the right-wing equivalent equivalent of the newly formed TUSC.

    To date however the Hefferistas have not decided to run 40 Hard Liners against the official Tory candidates. Although there’s always UKIP!

  • Chris lancashire

    I’m still waiting for New Labour to fulfil the 1997 pledges: “Set tough rules for Government spending and borrowing” and “Strengthen the economy”.
    On reflection, it might be better if New Labour just drop the whole pledge thing.

  • Patrick James


    That online blog of Simon Heffer’s is most interesting. I liked this comment:

    Tories have 40 days and 40 nights to convince public said Cameron today.

    Dave, love, you’ve had 4 YEARS

  • Brian Hughes

    Although firm pledges are a “must have”, I find when canvassing that the “what has Labour ever done for us”-type booklets and leaflets are v. helpful for reminding waverers that the proverbial glass is much more than half full.

    Reminders of all the achievements seem to be worth more even than commitments about the future.

    Thanks in large part I think to our glorious meeja, people have forgotten what life was really like in 1997 and, alas, grown cynical about political promises.