Why did the PM not defend Labour’s record?

If Brown continues to act like Gore, he will lose.

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman\'s Morning Call email.

In a guest column for this magazine back in September 2009, Alastair Campbell wrote:

People say they don't like negative campaigning. But there are three planks to any campaign: setting out a forward agenda, defending the record, and attacking your opponents. All are essential. All have to be done with verve and vigour.

Brown has spent this campaign attacking Cameron and Clegg and, to be fair, setting out his "forward agenda" and outlining Labour's policy priorities in a fourth term -- both in the debates and in the party's manifesto.

But where was the defence of "the record"? I waited in vain during last night's final leaders' debate for Brown to come out and list some of Labour's proudest achievements in office: the minimum wage, paid holidays, international aid, lifting British children out of poverty, improving schools and hospitals, peace in Northern Ireland, etc, etc. (Check out the LSE's Centre for Economic Performance, which has been doing a quiet audit of the Labour record on a host of policy areas and has some quite positive conclusions.)

Again and again, Cameron banged on about 13 wasted years while Brown stayed silent, as if he agreed with the Tory leader about the Labour record. It's not enough, as Campbell pointed out, only to attack your opponent and make promises about the future -- you have to point out what you've done and how you've helped people.

I notice that Johann Hari, in an excellent piece in today's Independent, echoes my comparison of David "Compassionate Conservative" Cameron with George W Bush circa 1999/2000. In fact, the Bush/Gore, Cameron-Brown analogy is quite disconcerting.

Bush, the overprivileged, nice-but-dim, right-wing millionaire, ran as an outsider on the oxymoronic platform of "compassionate conservatism" against the de facto incumbent, Al Gore, who was much more qualified to be president. Gore, however, had an image problem: professorial, boring, dull, technocratic, aloof, a poor public speaker.

Gore also refused to campaign on the Democrats' eight-year record on office, distancing himself from his popular predecessor Bill Clinton, who played a small and belated role in the 2000 presidential campaign. To see Brown's predecessor and bête-noire, Tony Blair, joining the campaign today, in the final days, makes me realise just how apt the analogy is.

There is one crucial and obvious difference: Gore won more votes but lost the election to Bush. Wouldn't it be sweet if, next Thursday, Cameron wins more votes but -- because of our dysfunctional electoral system -- Brown clings on to office? Such a scenario is becoming less and less likely, but it would be a foolish man who ruled it out . . .


Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Free trial CSS