Labour needs greater policy precision to help win the next election and to ensure the success of the Blair government. Charles Clarke, former head of Neil Kinnock's private office, offers adviceby Charles Clarke / October 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
The labour party has had an uncomfortable summer. The cause of this discomfort is genuine doubts within the party about both election strategy and the likely course of the next Labour government. Far from “New Labour, New Danger” some Labour members fear that a Labour government might be no danger to anyone, because it will not seek to change the Britain refashioned by 17 years of Thatcherism.
This belief does not necessarily reflect the way in which Labour would actually govern. Rather, it is a consequence of Labour’s public relations strategy over the past two years. This strategy is driven by the desire to convince voters that the Labour party has shed its “unacceptable” past and by the desire to avoid any policy proposition which could be represented by a hostile media as a threat to anyone’s well-being.
This strategy is understandable, given Labour’s past treatment by some sections of the media. But its dangers are becoming apparent. The millions of Labour party supporters and members who believe the party’s job is to offer hope to those who now have little, are asking not only whether New Labour has resolved how best to fulfil this ambition, but also whether New Labour is committed to change at all.
Nor are these doubts confined to Labour party members and supporters. A few weeks ago I spoke to a permanent secretary, then awaiting his first meeting with his shadow cabinet opposite number. He had already concluded (with regret, since he believes that the country needs change) that the Labour programme in his department’s area of responsibility meant that there would be little change of substance.
Some senior Labour politicians argue that lack of clarity is politically necessary. I believe that the reverse is true-that policy specifics are necessary for two important reasons, political and governmental.
The political necessity to be specific on policy is that imprecision or incoherence can undermine confidence in the Labour party as a whole and can generate uncertainty for those who have to speak on behalf of the party at many different levels. This problem is exacerbated by Labour’s current success. The more that commentators expect Labour to form the next government, the more they will seek details of how Labour will govern.
Lack of clarity in some areas has already had serious political consequences as shadow cabinet members and others have been caught in the crossfire. Too…