Election 2010 Lookahead: Monday 12 April

The who, when and where of the campaign.

And so begins week two of the 2010 election campaign:

Labour

Gordon Brown is in Birmingham today to launch Labour's manifesto (the Conservatives follow tomorrow, the Liberal Democrats on Wednesday). There has been much pre-launch speculation, including pledges to keep bus fares and children's clothes free of VAT, and raise tax credits for poor mothers.

Conservatives

The news agenda is likely to be dominated by Labour's manifesto, so Tory plans today have a certain "second division" feel to them (© Yvette Cooper). We have the shadow skills minister John Hayes unveiling a Tory apprenticeship scheme at a debate in Birmingham. The initiative includes a £2,000 incentive for small businesses to take on apprentices. Meanwhile, another senior Tory pitches up in Crawley. This time the party chairman, Eric Pickles, will be touring the constituency where Labour has a wafer-thin majority of 37 votes.

Liberal Democrats

Nick Clegg hosts his party's press conference in London this morning.

The media

Television executives are getting excited about the TV leaders' debates, which kick off this Thursday (ITV, 8pm). So, tonight we have Michael Cockerell's How to Win the TV Debate (BBC2, 7pm) and Tonight: Spotlight on the Leaders -- David Cameron (ITV, 8pm). Meanwhile, Panorama (BBC1, 8.30pm) asks Is Britain Full?, to which Ukip answers, "Yes, it is." (Some newspaper listings suggest Jeremy Paxman will be interviewing Nick Clegg at the same time on BBC1, but we're reliably informed that the immigration piece will be going out in its place.)

Away from the campaign

President Barack Obama hosts a global Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC. Gordon Brown has chosen to remain on the campaign trail, so while the PM stays at home the would-be Labour leadership contender, and current Foreign Secretary, David Miliband gets an opportunity to do his international statesman routine, flirt with Hillary Clinton and do his leadership chances no harm at all* (*assuming there's a leadership contest, of course).

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How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.