Sunday, 4 May 2008

It's not just the economy, stupid

So much, so much. Following the local election post mortem is like standing in the middle of the climax of a firework display. Every angle, every axe, every agenda is whizzing and fizzing around the pages of the Sunday press and TV studios. Gordon Brown must be reflecting on something wise that Tony Blair once said (not the only thing...) As you gain more experience, you learn to trust judgement over intelligence.

But the disagreements seem to be not just about 'where next?' but over 'what happened?' Two points to anyone who campaigned on Thursday are obvious:

i) It is not just suburban voters that are beginning to taste what it's like to vote Tory. It is traditional Labour support as well- in smaller numbers then their more affluent neighbours but significant nonetheless. Jon Cruddas' analysis in the Sunday Mirror is right. Ivan Lewis is optimistic in describing the elections as a 'suburban revolt.' Labour losses may have been concentrated in areas that had suburban characteristics but the quiet but significant switching of the traditional, working class could be just as corrosive to Labour's chances at the next election. Labour ignores this at its peril.

ii) It's not just the economy, stupid. Pocket book issues are hurting Labour, one of which, the abolition of the 10p tax rate, was self-inflicted. But this is more fundamental than that. The Government's achievement over more than a decade are tremendous but people are confused about the direction in which Labour is heading and they still feel that their lives and communities should be better. They are not wrong and the Government needs to answer their fears and insecurity.

So the best advice of the day? I think that has to go to Matthew Taylor, former Number Ten strategist. Define competence, tell people how it can be measured then focus exclusively on meeting the challenges that you've set for yourself.

Big policy documents and 'meeting long term challenges' are not the order of the day. Labour has two years, it is about reminding people what a Labour Government is about, why it is different to the Tories, why it is important, and showing that it can lead and deliver. So it's not just the economy, stupid. It is about showing that it is Labour that will make people's lives and communities better.

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