Monday, May 21, 2007

Gordon arrives

The stage is set and everyone is waiting - not a silent, respectful hush by any means, but we're waiting for the main act, after an interval break meeting the deputy leadership contenders trawling for votes.

And there's the man himself, large as life and half as dour, smiling and waving as the hall stands as one, cheering and applauding our next party leader and Prime Minister. Not everyone was quite so welcoming, though, and one lady was 'escorted' from the hall for shouting demands that Brown get the troops out now. The issue reappeared a couple of times during the discussion and he accepted his share of the responsibility for the decisions taken in Cabinet, but he promised to visit the region to assess the current status. Additionally, he said that he would work for a two-state solution to the problems in Gaza. Indeed, he said that he had met Israeli businessmen ready to invest in Gaza.

Gordon has clearly spent a good deal of time in training for this. His public persona involves a lot more smiling than it ever did in the past and he's even learning a few jokes. He's not on the Blair level when it comes to presentation, but that must be his selling point. Let Cameron do the lightweight spinning - Brown is a political heavyweight with policies aplenty. Many of those remain firmly under wraps, but some hints seemed to leak out.

Expect an Education Bill in the autumn's Queen's Speech and while Gordon remains committed to delivering the manifesto commitment on academies, there were hints that the programme might not expand in the way that Blair intended. Surestart will continue to expand, providing an average of six centres in every constituency by 2010. That will be a key marker for the Brown government, as he clearly wants to put child poverty and development at the heart of what he does. He also wants to expand youth provision - touched upon by Alan Johnson earlier in the morning - and wants to develop a partnership in training involving employers, young people and the government. We've increased apprenticeships from 70,000 in 1997 to 300,000 today and wants to go on towards 500,000, so as to reduce the pool of unskilled labour. Young people can also expect to be involved in deciding how money should be spent on their services in the community. While we've already increased per child spending on education from the 1997 level of £2500 a year to £5000, he wants to allow for more small group and one-to-one teaching by increasing it still more to £6500 per child per year. It is crucial that we deal with children who fall behind with reading or maths in the early years of primary education, otherwise they will not be able to catch up in time to reap the benefits of secondary education.

Even when it came to housing, he related that to children and poverty and pointed out that our society is creating some 270,000 new households a year and they need somewhere to live.

International aid will also remain important, as he understands that while we can't solve environmental problems without people taking responsibility and playing a role in reducing their own impact, greater effects are felt when countries work together. Britain is already putting £50 million into a Congo basin reforestation project. A big aim was to see if we could be the first generation when every child on the planet had the chance to go to school. He said that when Kenya was helped to provide free education, a million children unknown to the government suddenly appeared to enrol. We have the chance to eradicate diseases like polio, malaria and diptheria - six million lives could be saved each year. He also committed to persuading the UN and the African Union to take more action to deal with the great tragedy of Darfur.

Gordon's never going to be as slick as Blair, but that isn't a problem. His passion shows when he gets onto a subject close to his heart as the facts and figures spill out. He's certainly a detail man in a way that Tony never was. That may be a problem for the future - whether he can resist the temptation to fiddle with ministerial departments - but it can also be his strength. He understands the detail that underlies the big picture and will be able to highlight the weaknesses of the Tory attack. Cameron will find it hard to match that grasp of knowledge that Brown has.

I'm feeling more upbeat than I have for quite a while after today. If other members are reading this - do make the effort to get to one of these meetings if you can.


Bob Piper said...

Sadly, I wasn't able to get to Warwick. However, I have always thought Brown was less dour than people portray him, and the Tories are obviously rattled by him. They have spent two years in a sustained personal attack on Brown, whilst pretending they want him to succeed because they think he will be beatable. In reality they know Cameron will look lightweight against Brown, which is why so many of them wanted Miliband to stand.

Just one point though. The need for the additional new homes is not something suddenly new. Yet Gordon has been Chancellor alongside Blair for a decade. Why no fourth housing option? Why the persistent attacks on local authority housing? Why the headlong rush to LSVT and ALMO's? What have they done to solve the housing crisis over the last 10 years? Gordon is not just going to be able to pass the buck to Blair on some of these issues.

PoliticalHack said...

I entirely agree, Bob. Brown has been under sustained attack for ages and has weathered the storm - now he can come out fighting on his own terms.

I too would like to see LAs being allowed to invest in building decent quality homes. There are hints that something is in the offing on that, but I'm not expecting a huge switch around because of the potential impact on the public sector borrowing requirement. There's also the problem of how it would play with the Daily Mail, if a source of affordable, rented accommodation were to appear to undercut the housing market.

thesheep said...

It seems that the Unions are starting to play their cards. Amicus/UNITE/whatever they're called this month just sent out their email to members. It points out that John Cruddas is standing for Deputy Leader.

The only problem with it is that it makes so much of John that you might think he has no opponents, and therefore forget to vote. It would have been nice if they were a bit more open...

Danny Mac said...

I'm an ex-Labour activist who resigned within months of the May 1997 election because Blair was patently not the 'regular guy' he tried to portray.
Gordon Brown has made much of his moral compass and I hope we shall him delivering initiatives that reflect it. If he doesn't he's just another politician.
One idea he came up with a while back, which caught the imagination of people around me, was the 'national social service' for young people. A carrot-led (rather than compulsory) 'joining up' to serve the community in some way that would be open to all young people at around 15. What happened to it?