Context: the idea that the Labour party needs to change before we see a new leader, but that it will change towards the right.
My predictions (which don't agree with the above):
Gordon Brown is going to lead the party somewhat further to the left, appealing to 'old-style' core Labour ideologies that have been left a little by the wayside over the term of New Labour. This has always been what Gordon Brown cares about, and now he's going to take the opportunity to bring a more cohesive ideology back into the heart of the party. By doing this, the party hope to both reaffirm the loyalty of core ‘old Labour’ activists (who they need to go out and campaign again), and win over a large group of suddenly-politically-aware young people.
Labour are going to focus on pointing out all the things they've done to help people and make society more fair and equal. They're going to emphasise that they're still doing those things, despite the economic crisis (and, but nearly always as a secondary point, that in fact spending will help with the economic crisis). Key words that we'll hear over and over are responsibility, fairness & equality. The idea of responsibility will be particularly pushed - it would be irresponsible to give up when the going got tough, every country has bad times and good times and we need to take a more long-term view. (As a secondary point, other countries are now following our lead on how to deal with the current world bad times.) With the long-term perspective, Labour are incidentally going to hype their highly successful Early Years work, along with other similar initiatives.
They're not just going to try to ride out the political storm, they're going to try to harness it to get ideologically left-wing younger people to join the Labour party. The optimist in me says that if they do that coherently enough it might well work. I think it's working on me.
On Sunday, they were trying their strategy out on core Labour activists - partly because they need to make sure those people go back out and start campaigning again. I think that makes my reaction to accidental viewing of it quite interesting. I've not been political at all for a long time, but I was brought up by a Labour Party local secretary in a highly Tory area. I switched off from politics gradually after 1997, mostly because New Labour wasn't chiming with my ideals. I watched key New Labour people talking to a whole variety of audiences, but they were never speaking to me. Their message didn’t grab me. My Mum pointed out to me all the little things Labour had done to help people, but I began to take those for granted. If you'd asked me a few weeks ago what party I supported, I'd have mostly hmm'd and haa'd, then said they were all as bad as each other.
I cried when I watched that speech on Sunday. Please don’t laugh at me for that. It wasn’t a particularly well-delivered speech, but for the first time in a long time I felt like a politician shared my core ideals. It’s easy to do that with good speaking, but much harder to do that if you’re Gordon Brown. You have to really mean it.
Gordon Brown really means it, and he’s seen his opportunity to push his beliefs. He’s pushing them well enough to get the backing of key ‘New Labour’ people like Peter Mandelson. Probably they’re backing it all more cynically, seeing it as the best way out of a bad situation. But they are backing it. And it might work.
So, I could be talking a load of optimistic bullshit. On the other hand, on Sunday Gordon Brown was speaking to me clearly enough that I predicted the electoral reform announcement based on hints he gave. I was excited enough to yell upstairs to Ian. I hope Ian doesn’t mind if I say he couldn’t see the implication in the words of the speech – it was deliberately aimed subtext that I had the context for and he didn’t. That was (and is) aimed at my Mum – her main moan about Labour after they got in was that they hadn’t fulfilled their promise of electoral reform. That announcement will really energise her to work for the party again. I think it’s really well-calculated. Particularly because, coming from the current leader, it speaks of coherence in the party vision – they may have taken a while to get there, but it’s where they were always aiming (-do you remember why you supported them so strongly?)
Will this give Labour a chance of staying in power? I really hope so, and I’m likely to work to help them, but I do realise it’s likely they’re heading to defeat. Will Labour be destroyed by the current crisis? No, I think they stand a real chance of coming out of this as a strong opposition. I don’t know enough political history to judge, but I don’t think it’s a bad ambition to go out for just one term after so long in power. I think Labour stand a real chance of doing that, and the government that comes in circa 2014 could be a lot better than the one we got in 1997. Someone on email to a group of my friends recently said ‘New Labour is not the platform to unite behind’. We’re not going to have to do that. But I think there’s going to be something to unite behind, nonetheless.