Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Serious and contrite, Brown pledges fairer Britain for a new age

Many of us had expected him to come out fighting, but Gordon had a cleverer plan than that, and one which walked a much narrower and much more difficult line; he simply explained who he was.

"I didn't come into politics to be a celebrity or thinking I'd always be popular. Perhaps, that's just as well."

"I didn't come to London because I wanted to join the establishment, but because I wanted - and want - to change it. So I'm not going to try to be something I'm not. And 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."

It was as if he had decided to, at last, introduce himself to the nation and to define who he is and how much of himself he is prepared to show us in order to get the work done which needs to be done. He started with where he thought he had made mistakes:

"Where I've made mistakes I'll put my hand up and try to put them right. So what happened with 10p stung me because it really hurt that suddenly people felt I wasn't on the side of people on middle and modest incomes - because on the side of hard-working families is the only place I've ever wanted to be. And from now on it's the only place I ever will be."

And then he turned to the subject that we were all waiting for; the succession:
"The British people would not forgive us if at this time we looked inwards to the affairs of just our party when our duty is to the interests of our country. The people of Britain would never forget if we failed to put them first - and, friends, they'd be right."
They could have been words spoken by Jim Callaghan or Harold Wilson; calls for the Labour Party to unify or perish, it really was the specter of Old Labour that he was reminding us of and asking if the party wished to suffer a similar fate. It was subtle, but it was, nevertheless, there for anyone who has followed the history of the party.

And he defined his problems as taking place within a world in financial turmoil, and demanded that the party should, rather than discussing leadership challenges, be uniting at this difficult time to look out for the poor and those who most need Labour's help in times of financial hardship.

"This last week will be studied by our children as the week the world was spun on its axis and old certainties were turned on their heads. And in these uncertain times, we must be, we will be, the rock of stability and fairness upon which people stand.

"And, friends, it's a calling that summons us because in every time of profound change those with great wealth and privilege have always been able to look after themselves. But our duty, what gives us moral purpose, is serving the people who need us most - people on middle and modest incomes who need to know that they are not on their own amid this change."

It was curiously Old Labour in it's tone and it certainly hit all the notes that I, and many others, have been calling for for an awful long time. It's not that we hanker for a return to Callaghan and Wilson, but we certainly want a Labour Party that is certain about it's values and who it represents, and is unashamed about saying so.

And Brown went a long way, certainly further than he has ever gone since becoming Prime Minister, to reassure us that he knows what these values are from his own personal experience.

"Last year in Bournemouth I told you how when I was 16, I got injured playing rugby and lost the sight forever in my left eye. I knew I couldn't play football or rugby any more. But I could still read.

"But what I didn't tell you last year was that then one morning I woke up and realised my sight was going in my good eye. I had another operation and lay in the darkness for days on end. At that point my future was books on tape.

"But thanks to the NHS, my sight was saved by care my parents could never have afforded. And so it's precisely because I know and have heard from others about the miraculous difference a great surgeon and great nurses and great care can make that I'm so passionate about the values of the NHS."

And, finally, he turned on Cameron and why he isn't ready to lead the country, a subject which he approached with wit.

"Everyone knows that I'm all in favour of apprenticeships, but let me tell you this is no time for a novice. I believe in giving credit where it's due. The Conservative leader's team are smart - they've got a plan, and they are implementing it ruthlessly. Their strategy is to change their appearance, to give the appearance of change, and to conceal what they really think.

"And when salesmen won't tell you what they are selling, it's because they are selling something no one should buy. But 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'."

Hitting back at the Tories, who are portraying themselves as the champions of fairness and of progressive politics, Brown said fairness lay at the heart of the Labour party. "Fairness is in our DNA ... For too long we've developed only some of the talents of some people - but the modern route to social mobility is developing all the talents of all the people ... helping those who are working their way up from very little and lifting up those in the middle who want to get on."

I have long argued that the Labour Party don't need a change of leader, but that they do need to represent the interests of their base as clearly as the Tories represent theirs. Brown certainly set about doing just that yesterday. It may be too little, too late. Perhaps the snake oil salesman Cameron has already won the heart of Britain by looking pleasant and saying little, but Brown has, at last, set out the stall for where Labour is and what it's values are.

It was more than enough to stave off a leadership challenge, the question is whether it will have been enough to stave off the Tories winning the next election.

On that front I am not so sure. He showed us who he was; a quiet, determined, honourable man, who can never be the kind of celebrity which modern politics so often demands.

His message was that serious times call for serious people. My worry is that celebrity will win the day and that Cameron simply has the face that the cameras love.

I hope I'm wrong. But I doubt it.

Click title for full article.

No comments: