I’ve never been skiing, not even at Davos, but a friend tells me that when Polly Toynbee claims today in The Guardian that “the Labour party is sledging down a black run, eyes tight shut, the only certainty the electoral wall at the bottom of the hill,” it’s a reference to that favoured Winter pastime of the well heeled. How apt.
You see Polly’s got it all mapped out, thanks to opinion polls five months before the election which tell her Cameron’s got it in the bag. Only the “very optimistic” can read anything but a Labour defeat, she says. Meanwhile in the real world, Labour’s polling has been improving recently, with many now showing a hung parliament.
All Labour’s woes are down to Gordon Brown, claims Polly. He’s so identified with the past that any forward-looking message from him is “delusional”. He can’t talk about creating “a new decade of prosperity with opportunities fairly shared amongst those who work hard and play by the rules” because the middle classes “saw virtually no growth at all” in the previous decade. Instead these people used the equity in their over-inflated house prices to get easy credit, and that’s why they felt richer.
(Actually she doesn’t mention class at all; I’ll leave you to decide why.)
Really Polly? And what of my niece who doesn’t appear in any of your income figures, even the ones you approve of? She worked hard and played by the rules, despite all the historical obstacles which prevent children of poor single-parent families from social mobility, but is now reading Law and has a Law School place already lined up? Why no mention of the EMA, which meant the difference between leaving education and staying to study A’ levels? Or the practical state aid she received to help with her dyslexia? Or the fact that a University place was both available and attainable to her? Is she, or any of us in our family, expected to listen to a comfortable columnist tell us the last decade was wasted, when it clearly wasn’t?
But Polly’s not really worried about the past (which is handy as she has such a dodgy political one), but the future. “What's the forward offer? How on earth do you get voters out to mark an enthusiastic X for another five years of Gordon Brown?” she asks rhetorically, willing you to think “5 more years of the same? No way!”
It’s a valid question, and one we’ll need to answer soon with more vigor than even she can muster in calling for a new Leader. This new Leader by the way must be able to say sorry for Labour “wasting” its time on "public service reform"; for not taxing the rich harder and faster; and, ironically, for the state of the NHS. It goes without saying that he, or she, should be able to offer “change” (to blunt Cameron’s main weapon); that illusive “vision thing” (to prove we’ve not run out of steam); and, the ability to be listened to when he, or she, attacks the Tories as being “for the few not the many”. It no longer matters whether they’re from the left (as long as it’s not the ‘hard left’) or the right, just that thry’re not called Gordon Brown!
Polly, put the kettle on and settle back for some tough words: you’re talking out of your backside. The problem isn’t Gordon Brown, but middle class journalists like you being fair-weather friends. When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
They fight for what they believe in, they don’t slope off to the SDP complaining about trade union power in the hope the Labour Party is destroyed.
But hey, you’ve got my attention Polly, what with your national newspaper column and all. New Leader required you say? Okaaay, so what's the forward offer? How on earth do you get voters out to mark an enthusiastic X for another five years of Labour, when the new Leader is a product of panic rather than what’s best for Britain?
In short, what, apart from the face, can possibly change without looking like a reaction to a Tory Party you claim has already won the next election?
Aren’t you really saying “if you want my endorsement, then ditch Brown”? If the next election is all about winning columnists over to our side, then why not go the whole hog and have Quentin Davies lead us in the hope The Sun will dramatically u-turn and back a fourth term?
Heaven help us.
For me at least, given the choice between Gordon and Polly, Gordon wins hands down. Gordon will stand by his record at least; Polly couldn’t even if she tried. “Prosperity not austerity” is a good message as we come out of the deepest recession we’ve experienced in our times. A recession which confounded critics who claimed unemployment would rise to stratospheric levels, but didn’t.
A recession where the Government tried to help us by softening the blow with borrowed money, rather than telling us to “get on our bikes” as whole communities collapsed. A recession caused by too timid Government, not too big a state.
I reject Polly and her ilk who claim Labour has nothing to say and that the election is already lost. It’s not that we have nothing to say, it’s that the commentariat isn’t listening. That’s not an argument for a new Leader, but a new commentariat. Friends who can only bring themselves to vote Labour if they hold their noses aren’t friends at all.
It’s time The Guardian sent Polly off skiing so the rest of us can get on with winning an election. If she needs somebody to fill her place until then, I’ll do it for a third of Polly’s salary, but maybe we can find a compromise candidate: how about Jon Cruddas for Polly’s job?
LOL Footnote: Gordon has a choice. Make friends with renowned mavericks? Or hang them out to dry. Lower Pic adapted from: Impact Lab.