Monday, September 24, 2007

Brown's moral society

He didn't once mention him by name. But make no mistake, David Cameron was the real target of this afternoon's big speech by Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

For weeks, Cameron has been banging on about the "broken society," rightly calculating that social issues, rather than economics, will be uppermost in the voters' minds come the next general election, and believing this will give him the crucial advantage over a Prime Minister still perceived by some as no more than a dour financial manager.

Well, in this afternoon's speech, Brown made clear that if that's where Cameron wishes to stage the election battle, he will be there waiting for him. For this was a speech that was, more than anything, about society - and about Brown's vision of the kind of society he wishes to create over the next few years.

In policy terms, much of it was not new. To take one example, my wife is already in the middle of the nine months' paid maternity leave Brown re-announced this afternoon. But the way he weaved such initiatives together in a convincing overall narrative of his government's moral purpose was both new and potentially devastating for the Conservative opposition.

Central to the speech was Brown's own "moral compass" - something his predecessor was often justifiably accused of lacking. Without being at all preachy about it - New Labour still doesn't officially "do God" - the Prime Minister left no doubt about the importance of his own Christian convictions in determining Labour's future policy direction.

The speech was peppered with Biblical references, from ensuring all children are given a chance to use their gifts (the Parable of the Talents) to his pledge to "honour those who raised us" (the Fifth Commandment.)

This moral dimension is the common thread between, for instance, ensuring that young people from low income families will not have to pay to go to university, and ensuring that immigrants who sell drugs or carry guns will be thrown out and shops that sell alcohol to under-18s closed down.

All in all, I thought it was one of the cleverest leader's speeches I have heard. By not even mentioning the other two parties or their leaders, Brown once again succeeded in presenting himself as a national leader above petty party politicking, the personification of a new style of politics.

Most pleasing to me personally was his announcement that an elected House of Lords would be a Labour manifesto commitment. This is absolutely the right way to proceed with this vexed issue, as it will mean that under the Salisbury Convention, the unelected peers will have no alternative but to vote for their own abolition.

As to the great unanswered question - will there be an autumn general election? - the subliminal message of the speech was, surely, is that Brown is getting on with the job of governing. But at the same time, there are clearly people in Bournemouth who are continuing to stoke up the election talk - which may be real, or may just be a tactic to wind up the Tories and keep the unions and the left on their best behaviour.

It did not, to me, come over as an electioneering speech. But as I am not in Bournemouth and don't know what's being said behind the scenes to those journalists and bloggers who are, I can't be entirely sure that my instincts are correct.

What I am sure of, though, is that Brown knows exactly the ground on which he wishes to fight Cameron, and that he is absolutely confident of success.

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MorrisOx said...

Don't you get the sense, Paul, that although Broon doesn't really want an election yet he is danger of creating such an atmosphere of expectation that he might fall into one?

I think Broon is a supreme tactician, as the tone (rather than the content) of his speech demonstrated. But falling into an election could be a big mistake.

Ted Harvey said...

Paul I agree with much of what you said; especially on the power of the convincing narrative being a huge problem for the Tories. Brown came across with the narrative bit, but somehow with the 'moral compass element, so much more convincing than over-his-sell-by Blair would have been.

But he needs to commit or kill on the early election talk or suffer the fate of Callaghan who teased then postponed and was punished for that.

Something that makes me think that the October election talk is hot air, is that one of its main pushers is David Alexander. This guy's judgment is not to be trusted.

The man was responsible for the debacle that was the last Scottish Parliamentary election. He over-rode advice from officials and party managers to impose a complex, 'double election'.

The subsequent rejection of tens of thousands of ballot papers is being shown by emerging research to have had a democracy disempowering effect on the scale of the Bush - Florida 'fix'.

Ironic for Labour that their own poorer heartlands are where the highest proportions of voters were disenfranchised. Hence it was that the SNP were able to take up minority Government - with much early success.

Paul Linford said...

I do agree that Brown cannot allow the election speculation to continue indefinitely and that there is a risk that it has now assumed a momentum all of its own. But unlike Callaghan, I don't think he is going to (1) sing "There was I waiting at the church..." or (2) go on television to announce we aren't having an election. And David Cameron is no Maggie Thatcher either.

Anonymous said...

I would imagine that Dave is proud of the way Gordo is implementing the manifesto he wrote for Michael Howard two years ago.

-Cleaner hospitals
-Respect agenda
-Controlled immigration
-Stop & search
-Border police

The bit about 'British jobs for British workers' appears to have been lifted from the BNP.

The rest of the contents of his speech was the same old stuff recycled for the fith time.