The speech of his life?

Well, to my surprise, I was pretty impressed by Gordon Brown’s speech. Had it on in the corner of my screen while doing some work at home, and – though I blush to say it now – once or twice I even found myself applauding.

Whether it will be enough to quell all the speculation about his leadership: certainly for the moment, yes. But in the longer term, only if it represents the start of an upturn for Labour in the polls. I’m too much of a politics geek to assess how the speech would look to the “average voter”, but I’d certainly hope that people would be willing and able to listen to what Brown had to say.

He had some effective lines, such as when he said (near the start of the speech):

If people say I’m too serious, quite honestly there’s a lot to be serious about – I’m serious about doing a serious job for all the people of this country.

Some good policies mentioned on bread-and-butter issues, including:

  • free nursery places for two year olds
  • complete elimination of child poverty by 2020, enshrined in law
  • personal catch-up tuition for children who fall behind at primary school
  • a million families to be funded to get internet access
  • free universal check-ups for the over 40s
  • free prescriptions for cancer treatments
  • equality for women in retirement
  • looking at the case for an 80% cut in carbon emissions by 2050

And some good blows landed on the Tories. For example, when Brown spoke of the legacy of Labour’s “big ideas” over the past century:

You know our party so often in its history has been home to the big ideas – ideas later taken for granted, but revolutionary in their time. Just think, the vote for working men, and then for women, the NHS, legal protection from race or sex discrimination. These are no longer just Labour policies, they are established British values – they are the common sense of our age.

And we should never forget one thing – that every single blow we have struck for fairness and for the future has been opposed by the Conservatives.

And 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.

And so let’s hear no more from the Conservatives – we did fix the roof while the sun was shining.

That last line produced a standing ovation of its own, and quite rightly. My own spontaneous response was this tweet.

That passage also contained an interesting Gramscian touch, with Brown’s reference to “the common sense of our age”. New Labour as a “war of position”? 😉

Some have suggested that the “same old Tories” approach is misguided. Certainly it has to be done carefully, to avoid creating the impression that we think the public are dupes for thinking the Conservatives have changed, but Brown produced some evidence to back up the claim that the Tories’ fundamental instincts remain unchanged:

I’m a man for detail and I’ve discovered some clues about what would be in store in a Conservative Britain.

They want us to believe that, like us, they now care about public services. But when Mr Cameron actually talks to his party about their spending plans he says the difference between Labour and Tory levels of public investment will be “dramatic” and “fundamental”.

They want to tell us we’re all progressives now but the day that Hazel Blears and Caroline Flint were announcing a one billion pound package to support millions of homeowners, the Conservatives were confirming that their first tax priority is to take that one billion pounds from hard working families and hand it over to the 3,000 richest estates in Britain.

So will this save his premiership? Maybe, maybe not. But this was the first time since he became prime minister that I’ve found myself genuinely enthused by Brown’s performance. If he can keep this up post-conference, then this could make a real impact on Labour’s position – and, more importantly for the country as a whole, end the sense of bewildered indirection that has been crippling the government in recent weeks.


6 thoughts on “The speech of his life?”

  1. The problem is, this government has been in power for 11 years, talk is cheap. We need to see delivery, timelines, meat on the bones if this party wants a second chance and that is what they are asking for. Time and again, the Labour party has made promises, only to quietly drop them when they have failed to deliver, how do we know that this won’t happen again.

    It was not a bad conference speech and had we not ‘known’ Gordon Brown as well as we do, then I may have been more enthused, but contrary to what he said at conference, with Gordon we always have to look at the small print.

    I would have preferred it if he had taken a little more responsibility for his mistakes, other than a very brief mention of the 10p tax fiasco. One further point is that, once again, it looks like the majority will be expected to fund policy initiatives for the minority, as always; the majority are the forgotten, with incomes high enough to ensure that they receive few if any of the benefits, but incomes too low to be able to shrug off the effects of the economic downturn.

  2. “We did fix the roof while the sun was shining.”

    No, really, he didn’t. Government debt (nominal), according to the ONS’ figures, was paid down in ’98-’02 (fiscal year ends), from £404bn (’98) to £382bn (’02) but rose every year thereafter, up to £574bn (’07). If you look to the end of the calendar year ’07, it rockets to £618bn.

    The only way Gordon Brown can get away with claiming that he fixed the roof is that over the period, GDP grew more rapidly still, and government doesn’t count nominal, or even real, debt, but debt/GDP. Thus, the Exchequer got a “free” pay-rise as GDP grew, and instead of using that to pay down debt, the Chancellor took it as an opportunity to take on more.

    It’s like a man who has an income of £30,000 and debt of £10,000, but gets a pay-rise to £60,000 and takes on further debt of £5,000. His debt/income ratio goes down (so you can argue that the new debt level is more affordable), but his actual debt goes up (so if he loses his job, he’s in deeper trouble).
    The relevant table is M1, on p. 9.

  3. Phil: I don’t really follow the arguments about levels of debt versus GDP. Have seen conflicting figures, and in any event Brown’s comment wasn’t responding directly to the way in which the Tories have used the line about “fixing the roof while the sun was shining” – or rather, he was giving a different definition of what “fixing the roof” involved, as listed in the previous paragraph.

  4. Well, it’s even more disingenuous to claim that a charge is untrue because you define the terms differently from your opponent! The Tories have been consistent in accusing Brown of failing to pay down debt sufficiently: that’s their definition of “fixing the roof” and I’m afraid that on that charge, the PM is simply guilty. How would someone get on in court if they tried, “Well, m’lud, I’m not guilty of theft on account of the alleged victim is still alive”?

    So if he wants to claim that the country is more secure economically because of SureStart and New Deal, then he can say that, it’s a free country (still). If he said, “The Tories want us to think that paying down debt is all that matters, but you know, we fixed the roof in far more important ways than that,” no-one’s going to stop him. But he denied the Tories’ charge in the Tories’ terms, and that is simply dishonest no matter which measure of debt you care to use.

    To understand the business about debt/GDP, you need to realise that government tax revenue will vary roughly in line with GDP (ceteris paribus). So the debt/GDP figure is a reasonable one to study: absolute values (like the famed 40% Golden Rule) don’t mean so much, but relative values and direction of travel are important, because they give you an idea of whether the nation’s debt is becoming more or less affordable. Make sense?

    Anyway, the main point is that if any government minister tries to claim that they’ve paid off debt (and I’ve heard them do it) then the government’s own official statistics say otherwise. Gordon’s divorced Prudence, or at least, he’s been seeing a lady claiming to be Fairness behind her back.

  5. I read your list of “bread and butter issues” and had running through my mind…

    “Santa Clause is comin’….TO TOOOOOWWWWWNNN!!”

    Then I read about Labour’s new privacy intrusions and think,

    “He sees you when you’re sleeping….He knows when you’re awake!”


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