It didn’t quite live up to all the expectations, but Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour Party Conference today was a tubthumper.
The Prime Minister put on a strong performance and delivered a policy rich speech. He promised a referendum on electoral reform, a care home network for teenage mothers, an extension of free childcare places and to enshrine in law the commitment to spend 0.7% of national income on international development. If the intention was to put clear red water between us and the Tories then it worked.
The new announcements showed that we are still capable of delivering up fresh ideas which are relevant to the British people.
I particularly welcomed the strong attacks he made on anti-social behaviour. It wasn’t directly mentioned but there were strong echoes of Tony Blair’s Respect Agenda in what the Prime Minister said. Up until today Brown has ignored this issue but I am pleased it is at the top of his agenda again. It will certainly help us to appeal to floating voters.
Some of the policies he announced also pivoted to our base which was good. The announcements on Post Offices and ID Cards were met with big cheers. They will win him friends where he needs them.
I also thought he established the Tory lines of attack very well, while still managing to sound positive. I think there is a view, increasingly taking hold amongst the British public, that Cameron made the wrong call about the recession twelve months ago. Brown hammered this point home. “The Conservative Party were faced with the economic call of the century and they called it wrong”, he said. I think Joe Bloggs will agree with him.
He also made promises on the minimum wage and a National Care Service for the elderly which will leave the Tories in a tricky position. Will they be able to match them?
Unlike some cynics, I also liked Sarah Brown’s introduction. It was personal, emotional and honest. It worked the first time and I think it has again.
But the speech was not a game changer.
Of course, it takes more than just one speech to turn around the fortunes of a political party but for me it still sounded like a rag bag of ideas and sound bites stuck together, rather than a compelling narrative or vision of what Labour’s election message will be.
I thought it could have been bolder. Why stop at the recall of corrupt MPs? Why not introduce primaries? Why not hold a referendum on PR on the day of the election? Why not take tougher action on bankers’ bonuses? It didn’t go far enough. It won’t be enough to convince the voters.
Brown may have littered his speech with good announcements and good reminders of what we have done, but the trouble (as it has always been with him) is that the British public have just stopped listening.
Maybe we can get them to listen again. But I doubt it.
That’s why at the end of the day, it may have been a good speech, but it will be the last he makes as Prime Minister.
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