Virtual opposition: preferable to the real thing

THIRD terms are hard for any government. Having won three general elections in a row, the challenge of appearing fresh and relevant to the public is one that any party in Labour’s position would face.

So, to reiterate the question I asked here previously, what do we, as a governing party, need to do, not only to regain the confidence of the British people, but to inspire them once again?

I have one suggestion: put ourselves in the shoes of the opposition.

Our next manifesto will contain many commitments, all worthwhile and well thought out. They will have been formed by ministers and MPs, party members and officials who are only too aware of the intimidating shadow and legacy of 12, or possibly 13, years in government. Those writing the manifesto will have a depth of knowledge and experience of government of which their predecessors in 1996 and 1997 could only have dreamed.

But perhaps that’s part of the problem. Perhaps more than a decade in the role of the establishment we spent 18 years in opposition trying to topple has deprived us of the hunger that is inevitably entrenched in the soul of any opposition worth its salt.

So instead of asking “What should we offer the people in our bid for a fourth term?”, let’s instead ask: “If we were in opposition right now, and the country were facing exactly the same challenges as it is now, and we were determined to form the next, new, government, what would be in our manifesto?”

What new policies and projects would an experienced Labour opposition in 2010 propose to the electorate in order to woo it, and would they be measurably more radical than what an incumbent government would offer?

If so, then we need to adopt a new mindset. And do it quickly.



Filed under Conservative Party, David Cameron, Labour, Politics

32 responses to “Virtual opposition: preferable to the real thing

  1. Richard

    You don’t have a mandate for radical new “policies and projects”.

    If you intend to take the country in a different direction you should seek to put your new manifesto to the public vote.

  2. Er, that’s the point I’m trying to make: ideas for the next general election manifesto. Sorry, Richard, didn’t I make that clear enough?

  3. Doug

    For a start, Gordon should go gracefully and of his own accord. Secondly, we should have a real debate of ideas and a genuine leadership contest. It is a pity that the deputy leadership contest was only thus, when a full leadership contest could have helped breathe life into some fresh new ideas.

    Right now, Labour are heading for a real pumping, as we might say in football parlance.

  4. Madasafish

    Well, May I suggest something basic.
    Stop lying and tell the truth.
    Stop trying to run our lives.
    Stop being authoritarian.

  5. Patchouli

    Sort your finances out so you are not beholden to the unions , else it’ll end in tears. If you can’t do that, don’t expect the public to believe you can sort out the UK economy.

    Stop trying to change everything. Tradition can be good. We’re always on edge wondering what the gvt is next going to tell us is illegal.

    Get those nuclear power plants, prisons, and social housing built now.

    Put a windfall tax on the energy giants – and all accident claim firms; use to bring back legal aid for more people. Oh, and one on Tesco, for all sorts of reasons.

    Stop the Working Tax credit system and put the 10p tax band on everything above the tax free threshold up to £15K

    Force BT to sort out their infrastructure and replace old lines so everyone can have decent access to the internet.

    Stop putting the Minimum Wage levels up above CPI. It has an unfair impact on small businesses, already struggling to keep afloat due to the amount of legislation we are expected to cope with. Give us a break and allow the VAT compulsory threshold to go up to £100K at least.

    Get rid of HIPs – make Yvette apologise while you’re at it. OK, that’ll never happen, so just get rid of HIPs.

    Tell all public bodies to save money and stop printing on anything above 80gm paper, using a maximum of 11pt font. Tell LAs to stop wasting money on changing logos – it’s not as if we have any choice so why have a logo at all?

    Stop call centres withholding their number and tighten up the rules on cold callers.

    Stop pretending taxes are for ‘green’ or ‘health’ reasons.

    That’ll do for the first tranche. 🙂

    PS Tell Gordon to let go – his nails aren’t long enough to cling on.

  6. Chris Gale

    My own area is that of animal welfare.
    The status of animals in our society is intertwined with any progress to a better and more civilised society for people
    Labour in government has done good things on animal welfare but needs to go much further and rediscover the commitment of the socialist pioneers of humane politics.

    For starters-

    Ensure the Hunting Act 2004 is properly enforced and champion it.

    End the shameful slavish pandering and active support given to the shooting industry by our government and party figures. It is quite disgusting and has alienated huge numbers of compassionate minded people from us.

    Ban snares

    Give the same level of protection under the law to wild animals from cruelty as afforded to domestic ones.

  7. Johnny Norfolk

    Face up to what you have done wrong and put it right, as many have told you. So what do you do. You do not answer the people who have given you many answers, but ask another question. I asume because you did not like the answers you received. Classic Labour spin.

    The game is up, it has taken time for the public to see through labour. Blair held it together for you, but power went to his head. So we now have a traditional Labour leader and what a mess.

    Instead of asking questions tell us what you intend to do. You wont of course because you have no idea. You have run out of spin and there is nowhere to hide.

  8. Lola

    Tom, old son, it’s too late, you’ve been found out. The one thing that will get you credibility outside your core vote is to cut public spending and taxes, and that you are constitutionally incapable of doing.

  9. B4L

    You read it here first:

    My concern with listening to the siren voices is this: none of them are ever prepared to admit they were wrong in the past; everyone manages to be right on the money now, and everyone else wrong. Until people are big enough to get past this (blog commenters are particularly unwilling to do so, because they have no stake in the decision-making progress) constructive progress is impossible.

  10. Th Essex Boys

    Patchouli has many good answers above but, Tom, the government should be refering continuously to their 2005 manifesto as there’s still nearly 2 years to run. The major difficulty in that we guess is the Lisbon treaty broken promise so the manifesto gets ignored by Labour and they move on to the next one. Your suggestion of putting yourselves in opposition shoes has much merit but only after enacting – or saying why you choose not to enact the 05 manifesto.
    Another legitimate beef is that Labour is navel-gazing about leadership when they have been elected to serve all the people, not just Labour supporters and the party’s interests.
    We’ve had no time for New Labour from the time we first set eyes on Blair in 1994 – ‘all ham and no beef” and a ‘powder puff’ were the more polite descriptions of our small political group. We were spot on. However we feel there is one small hope for you and that is to elect a leader of proven credibility, judgement and finesse…and that man is Frank Field. What say you to this suggestion, Tom?

  11. B4L

    “We’ve had no time for New Labour from the time we first set eyes on Blair in 1994 […] We were spot on.”

    … which just goes to prove the point I made above: some people aren’t interested in engaging in open debate, because they might lose and be shown to have been fools. Best to simply state you were right all along, as these other commenters have, and more wise than everyone else.

    While some are interested in finding collective solutions, for others, politics and debate is all about ego-massaging. Promoting single-issues is merely a manifestation of that impulse.

  12. Chris Gale

    Frank Field??? err no thanks

  13. Madasafish

    Further to my negative posts earlier, I’ll try to be positive.
    If you presented a manifesto based on reducing the size of the state, fewer social changes, a prgmatic approach to the future, far less new legislation … you would cut the ground from under the Conservatives’ feet.

    Mind you , you need a sensible and prudent leader with some charm, charisma and believable.

    I happen to agree with John Prescott: none of the current Cabinet are suitable, having baggage or a complete lack of any popular appeal or being superficially attractive but recognising their own limitations.

    If you do have a wipeouut at the next GE, a search for a suitable candidate becomes far more difficult as the gene pool becomes much smaller..

    So my recommendations are: an early election. You will get hammered and lose lots of seats. But far fewer than if you wait till 2010.
    A new leader: post GE. Stay with Gordon: yes he is a loser but you will lose anyway and he deserves part if not 60% of theblame. (Blair having the rest).

    Reform your Leadership process: unsuited to a modern political party.

    Ditch the union link. As reform of party funding will sever it any way.

    I have every confidence that none of the above will be followed. 🙂

  14. Scallywag

    The problem is that all this is an irrelevance and of academic interest only because Brown is ‘busted’ and is currently doing his best to bust your party and consign it to unelectable oblivion.

    Even Miss Townbee said so on Andrew Wingnut’s show on the telly yesterday. So it must be true…

  15. Peter

    The problem with thinking yourself into opposition mode is that you would have to diss the record of the incumbent. Oh, sorry I see you are already doing that (according to one formerly prominent member of the government) so on you go.

  16. thebristolblogger

    At present Labour is a sprawling mess of odd social initiatives.

    You need to be much clearer about what the state is for and isn’t for; what it can and can’t do and what size it should be and then focus ruthlessly.

    You can’t micromanage people’s lives from Westminster (or the town hall).

  17. YarnesfromHorsham

    So whats wrong with Frank Field. More cred than most in NewLab top people.

  18. When you blog:
    ‘Our next manifesto will contain many commitments, all worthwhile and well thought out. They will have been formed by ministers and MPs, party members and officials’.

    And I then think of the comments produced for you by your civil servants which pass from eye to mouth with no sense check, I do wonder about that ‘well thought out’. The big advantage the opposition has is that its shadows have to do their own homework and have a better detailed understanding than ministers. The classic example was John Prescott.

    What to do now?

    Stop believing that a weekly blizzard of exciting new policies and initiatives are the answer.

    Ensure any new policies are right first time and fully worked through and sense checked.

    Make the public services we’ve got work properly – not as exciting for Ministers as unveiling super whizzo new ideas on Today – but the public might notice the difference.

    Stop insulting our intelligence by telling us things which are self evidently not true, or air brushing out embarrassing errors (GB’s statement on most people benefiting from the car tax changes).

    Have a few long term visions – like secure energy supplies.

    As the Book of Common Prayer puts it, could we be ‘quietly’ governed?

  19. Johnny Norfolk

    Tom you see the gist of most peoples replies. Do you agree. what do you think. Do you think all that has been done by Labour is all OK. Lets have some feedback please. Whats your vision for the future.

    We all want less from the Labour government not more. Good management is about knowing when not to do something.

  20. John Taylor


    Assuming that you and your colleagues are utterly sincere with the electorate with the “ah, but now we’re really are listening” line, can I ask who you are listening to and when you intend to ‘learn’? You must know that you can’t appeal to everyone, so identify your core vote and ask them what they want. At least they might come up with lines that you want to hear – which doesn’t seem to be the case so far.

    I don’t think anyone wants two more years of ‘listening’ and surely it is better to lose an election because of your principles rather than because of the absence of principles.

  21. Krupesh

    Great suggestion – Hopefully Mr Brown employs it

  22. PeteB

    My namesake above’s come closest. It’s the job of oppositions to diss governments. Governments don’t usually diss the opposition because usually by now governments have screwed up. Maybe you should turn your question round Tom.

    “If we were in opposition now – what would we hate the agenda to be. ” ?

    Possible answers?

    Opposition says: “We would hate to talk about law and order because crime’s about half what it was under our party.”

    Turn that round: “Vote that lot back in and you’re voting for crime to double.”

    Other things an opposition would hate to talk about? Unemployment figures; pensioner poverty (down 600,000 isn’t it? – some of our most vulnerable … gave their lives working for the country … 600,000 more if you vote the opposition lot back in …winter heating allowance was zero when the opposition were last in power – want to go back to that? …; child poverty ; road safety;

    The opposition shouldn’t have a chance, should they?

    It used to be called “fighting back” in the old days …


  23. Madasafish

    Trouble is: we’re heading into a recession.
    Child poverty and fuel poverty are going to get: a lot worse, and of course the State has no money and cannot raise taxes much.
    Plus the Chancellor of the Exchequer is clearly not comptenet… see the commenst on Green taxes, the revisiting and revising of 10p tax, Corporation Tax etc.

    May I suggest you do the basics right..

    As for education, immigration and crime… well we don’t want to go there.. Get the basics right…

    Perhasp when in Opposition you might reflect of the general incompetence of most Ministers and how you are going to stop that in future. You’ve got all women shortlist, lists for racial minorities etc.. All deserving social causes a,d utterly useless when running the country efficiently.

    How about picking prospective MPs based on ability? Cos current ones appear to have little.

  24. Malcolm

    Tom, considering the EU referendum , and the fact that Labour lied in their manifesto re the public getting a vote on it , and all the other obvious lies that Brown spouts, why would anybody believe that any future Labour manifesto was worth the paper it was written on. Also considering the half thought out policies that have been introduced and then had to be reversed or bribes given to cover the mess made by them I hardly think much thought or careful consideration could be applied to labour policy at this point in time.
    As per most of the comments it looks like Labour will have plenty of time to get experience of thinking like an opposition, and if Brown hangs on much longer they may not even have enough MP’s to be the opposition.

  25. Voter1

    You tax us and waste our money on innumerable stupid causes and tell us it’s for our own good.

    You tax our cars and our fuel. You tell us to be green and buy new cars. Your taxes make our old cars worthless and new cars expensive. We’re taxed out of our cars but can’t use the buses for the trains because they are too expensive, unreliable and are only available if you work in a large city.

    It’s for you own good we’re told from the backs of ministerial cars.

    Food goes up by 10%, petrol by 20% and gas by 30%. Yet we’re told to take 2% in our pay packets.

    We’re told to save for retirement yet you steal our pensions. We’d be safer stuffing money in a mattress.

    I’m bored of terrorism being wheeled out as an excuse for anything from useless IDs (and they are useless because ministers plainly do not have a clue what they are talking about with regard to IT or security) to excessive police intervention and the arresting of octogenarians that disagree with the Labour line.

    Well we’re sick of the lies, the spin, the deceit and the taxes. We’re sick of Blair’s smug grin, Browns fake smile and Ball’s “So what”.

    I doubt Cameron’s lot are any better. No doubt they are all useless too. But anything is better than you lot. Any chance of a change has to be taken. I can only hope and pray that the Labour party is blown into the weeds never to emerge again.

    I keenly await the chance to vote you bastards into oblivion.

  26. Stop beating about the bush, Voter1 – are you going to vote Labour or not?

  27. Johnny Norfolk

    It shows how Labour is finished.

    Ask yourself these questions.

    Who would you trust to run the country and look after your interests. Brown or The Queen

    Look after your money Darling or Prince Phillip

    Look after housing and the NHS whoever we have now or The Prince of Wales

    Home Secretary Smith or Princess Anne

    They would have to do better than the Labour and no one could bribe them.

  28. Johnny Norfolk

    You just need to stop all this.

    Headline in todays D.T.

    “Parents are to receive official letters telling them if their child has a weight problem, under a Government crackdown on obesity. ”

    Its worse than the old Eastern Bloc.

  29. Malcolm

    Tom, reply at 2:37pm is excellent , I like the way you handle the flak.

  30. Madasafish

    And finally (hurrah everyone shouts:-)

    I’m a Scot living in England.

    Even I am totally brassed off with aload of Scottish MPs coming on TV telling us they support the PM (another Scot) and the Chancellor (another Scot) and Government policies are wonderful.
    I know most English Labour MPs are not really up to snuff and most are bored old scyophants but rubbing my nose in the Scottish supremacy in the PLP does not do Labour’s cause any good – in England.

    Ot ought to be good PR to keep Glasgow Labour MPs off TV channels: apart from anything many of them are incomprehensible…

  31. Jim Baxter

    Not much sign in the comments so far that people want more government regulation of their lives and their choices. I agree with the comment that committing yourselves to greater choice would steal the Tories’ ground, or at least what used to be their ground. Change your core attitude such that your Big Idea is to increase personal freedom and show how you mean for once to make that happen instead of saying how important it is while doing your best to destroy it. Less fiddling legislation, less government, fewer targets, zero ‘eyecatching’ initiatives which cost millions or billions and parlalyse the services which they’re supposed to improve while those services are forced to understand and adapt to yet another upheaval. Be more libertarian – show that that’s not the preserve of the Right – E.g. set up a Commission, with an open mind, instead of fixing the outcome before it starts, to look at the laws on presently illegal drugs to see if they should be controlled and taxed, rather than just presuming that the futile ‘war’ against them must be continued or intensified at huge expense. Maybe they can’t be, maybe they shouldn’t be, but nobody has really looked honestly at the options. But don’t do it as a single issue. Do it as part of an attitude that trusts the electorate rather than thinking of them as wild boors (sic) that have to be watched and controlled because they are a threat to the state. Recognise that they are the state.

    Defend the country, manage the public purse like it was your money not ours, and otherwise butt out of what doesn’t concern you, i.e. what the public does in private that doesn’t harm anybody else. Stop commenting on everything. We don’t want to hear that the PM is ‘deeply saddened’ every time some soap actor falls off the perch. Some long periods of silence from the government on a whole lot of things would be welcome, to paraphrase Clement Atlee.

  32. dreamingspire

    Get started on making the civil service work properly – its top end ethos is still Victorian (and right wing) at a time when we can find out the facts with which to confront them. That programme is something that the Tories haven’t yet cottoned on to, and perhaps dare not.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s