Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Brown's choice: re-erecting the tent v the strategic strike

Labour is poised for a period of internal reflection no matter what the results are like tomorrow. You can speculate endlessly about what the outcome will be but in low turnout elections (and with rain on the day turnout could be affected further- the forecast for Rugby where I am campaigning is here.) The reality is that a great deal depends on local factors such as the effectiveness of local organisation when you are looking at turnouts in the low 20s. That is difficult to judge in advance. So I'm not going to make a prediction other than to say that the London count will be very exciting indeed.

So there will be a weekend of hysterical reaction when actually the results mean very little from a national perspective. Next week, a fierce internal debate about how Labour should begin its recovery will swing into action. Tuesday sees a Compass 'what now?' event and it's the Fabian's turn on Thursday with a talk on Labour's appeal in the south by the thoughtful John Denham MP.

Jonathan Freedland
clearly defines the terms of the debate. The Compass approach of 'recovering the lost Labour vote' of public sector workers, ethnic minorities, "urban intellectuals" and the traditional working class versus the strategic strike approach of targeting a small number of swing voters in a small number of constituencies. Freedland describes this as the approach of the centre-left Progress Group.

This strategic discussion is all very well but in practice what will it mean? Instinctively I tend towards the broad Compass approach but until we see what it means in black and white it is difficult to conclude that they have the answers. We will see over the coming weeks.

Nothing I have heard yet is a convincing platform for halting Cameron's march onto Labour ground. Some of that can be undone tactically- i.e. undermining the credibility of Cameron by challenging the substance or effectiveness of what he is saying on the NHS, the environment or poverty. But there needs to be something broader also.

I will cover the debate as it evolves over coming weeks as this is a key moment for the Labour Government. These debates will be critical in determining the outcome of the next election. Just one comment is worth making at the outset. The Government is going to have to get itself in a position where it is assessing the politics of its decisions not just the administrative merit. This is where it went wrong over the 10p tax issue. This is not government by focus group but it is a more sensitive form of government. If it gets the politics wrong then the strategic discussion becomes an irrelevance. Instead, Brown's administration will simply be playing back-foot politics. The damage will be limited but victory will be denied.

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