The Thick of It

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Gordon Brown's speech

Now everyone has had time for reflection and I've had time to speak to other people across the Labour Party about Gordon Brown's speech to conference yesterday it is a good time to pass judgement.

He started well and themes of fairness and being on 'your' side worked well. Brown needs to keep on at this as a key differentiator between Labour and Tories. There is a gulf but nobody will know if Labour never make it explicit:

"Just think where our country would be if we'd listened to them. No paternity leave, no New Deal, no Bank of England independence, no Sure Start, no devolution, no civil partnerships, no minimum wage, no new investment in the NHS, no new nurses, no new police, no new schools.

"So let's hear no more from the Conservatives - we did fix the roof while the sun was shining."

Gordon, where have you been? The rabble rousing, tub-thumping, robust policy laden speeches of the past seemed to have disappeared but there were glimpses yesterday of the Prime Minister we all thought we were going to get. Jonathan Freedland writes well about this.

Focusing on himself as the only person to steer Britain through troubled economic times was expected but important. This unique value proposition marks him against Cameron-Osbourne well. Brown took decisive action last week to allow Lloyds TSB to take over HBOS and for me, that was the start of the Brown fight-back.

BBC's John Pienaar, together with The Sun's Trevor Kavanagh on Five Live after the speech yesterday stated today that Brown's speech served it's primary purpose - to get the party back onside. Telling the party that"fairness is in our DNA" was an easy, but important point scorer. So far it appears to have broadly brought the party back onside. This was a stay of execution, Brown has more time now.

According to The Sun:

"This speech won Mr Brown precious breathing space. But his exhausted face revealed the strain this battle for survival is inflicting.

His ‘great clunking fist’ still managed to land a blow on David Cameron. Mr Brown portrayed the Tory leader as a carpet-bagger selling snake oil and patent cure-alls.

Mr Cameron must respond next week by filling the gaping holes in Tory policy — on Europe, taxes, spending and the NHS."

Ruth Kelly's resignation from cabinet shows there are still murmurs of discontent within and was either timed for maximum damage - diverting attention from Brown's speech - or totally misguided. Brown's forthcoming reshuffle is now the next most important challenge. He needs a cabinet to both support him and to promote his agenda - a cabinet with positive policies to improve Britain, not a sniping, critical opposition. Voters don't want to listen to a party tearing itself apart in public, they want a government to govern.

With a stronger team and (hopefully) showing the robustness of yesterday to the country, Brown needs to attack the Tories and to show the country why he said yesterday of the Tories:

"And when salesmen won't tell you what they are selling, it's because they are selling something no-one should buy."

For now, the challenge is with the Tories, but Brown will need to respond.

Yesterday the old Brown was back. I hope he stays.

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