James Forsyth

Brown’s new dividing lines are merely muddled hypotheticals

Brown's new dividing lines are merely muddled hypotheticals
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Reading the transcript of Gordon Brown’s interview with the FT one is struck by how little of a domestic policy message Brown has. Say what you like about Labour’s mantra in 2001 and 2005 of Labour investment versus Tory cuts but it was clear. By contrast, Brown’s attempt to explain his new dividing lines to the FT is distinctly muddled.

Brown’s main line is that things could have been a lot worse without the government’s action. But that is, of course, a hypothetical. It also seems doubtful that the public will share this view or forget who was Chancellor in the decade before the crisis.

Brown then moves on to what he thinks will be the battleground for the next election. Here is the bulk of his meandering answer:

“I think as we look to next stage...look, what is that Britain has to offer the rest of the world? What is it that makes us confident about our export potential for the future? What is it that makes Britain one of the likely beneficiaries of this new global set of arrangements that we call the global economy? And it is clearly the high value added, the creative, the high technology, the custom-built goods and services. And it is clearly dependent on a higher degree of skill and knowledge and creative talent than previously.

Now, the great thing about the new world economy is that if you have a product to sell or a service to sell that is highly valued, you can sell it all over the world now, not just in your own country. The good thing to look forward to is that there are going to be millions of new middle class consumers developing in Asia and elsewhere over the next few years, wanting these new high quality products as they become not just producers of their own goods, but consumers of our goods.

And the great thing that Britain’s got to offer is if you look at these high technology and creative industries, we are well placed. So the question is, which party or which government has the right policies for taking our economy forward to the next stage? Who is able to invest in the education talents and creative potential of our country? And who has a sense of how we can actually be successful in this new age?

That was the question of the previous two elections, and more so because we’re at a very important point in the development of the global economy, this is the question for our time: which policies will take us through to the next stage?

I believe that we’re going to be able to show that we can both develop and harness the creative potential of this country, while at the same time making sure that that talent can come through, through proper investment in education.”

It is hard to see any of this as a rallying cry likely to bring back those who have deserted Labour over the past few years. Also, if Labour pick a fight with the Tories on education they are playing on their opponent’s strongest ground.

Any party going for a fourth term in government will have a hard time trying to explain to the electorate what they want to do next. But it is remarkable how comprehensively out of ideas Labour is. It is the absence of any new ideas that makes me think that Labour will go seriously negative soon. Its best chance is, probably, to raise as many doubts as possible about the Tories.