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26 June 2008

How can Brown turn things round?

Six influential politicians and thinkers assess the Prime Minister's chances

By Staff Blogger

“Caution is doomed”

Of course, Labour can win, and victory is more likely under Gordon Brown than under any other leader. But the Prime Minister has to begin, and begin quickly, to re-establish his reputation as a politician of principle. That requires more than obviously contrived “initiatives”. Nobody is going to come home to Labour because offenders are made to perform community work in tabards that identify them as miscreants. Daring is dangerous. But caution is doomed. Gordon Brown wants a more equal society in which need determines the government’s priorities and the market is kept in its proper place. When those principles guided his policies ( “There is a better way to help regeneration than a mega-casino”) he was unbeatable. When he trimmed to outflank the Conservatives he slumped in the polls. He has to take risks and make enemies. But his best weapon now is his real convictions. As somebody said: “Best when we are Labour.”

Roy Hattersley, Labour peer and former deputy leader, is a political commentator and author

“Repair the damage”

Things could not be worse and things are unlikely to get better on the present course. Labour is deep into such an electoral abyss that there risks being virtually no party left after the next election. Bankrupt financially and bereft of ideas, it is skidding towards near-oblivion for a very long time – and it is a horrible spectacle to watch. A cabinet of obedient managerialists lacks either the will to live or any clue as to how to save themselves. A strange inertia seems to have gripped the whole party, waiting for something to turn up, for fleet-footed Cameron to make some unlikely blunder. If someone doesn’t grab the steering wheel, the whole charabanc will plunge over the precipice. It is not clear that Labour can be saved – but at least it could be steered to a safer stopping place with fewer electoral casualties and a chance to repair the damage.

Polly Toynbee is a leading commentator on social policy and senior columnist for the Guardian

“Less is more”

The big challenge for Gordon Brown over the next year is to change the voters’ perception that the government is distant from their lives and their priorities. The British people are experiencing a “real-terms” drop in disposable income for the first time in a decade and want to see positive steps to reduce the cost of living. This should include a freeze on fuel duty. The political climate also demands a new realism in policymaking: voters are sceptical that government effort and funding are yielding real results, particularly in the public services. Too many announcements from government appear to fall into the trap of “initiativitis”: action for action’s sake. Ministers need to understand that less is more. A clearer focus on the pressing priorities of working families could have a real impact on the political climate.

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“Be yourself”

If a week is a long time in politics, two years is an age. There need not be a general election until early summer 2010. A lot can happen between now and then. But if Gordon Brown wants to recover the public approval of his post-coronation period last summer, I would advise him to break from the past. In spite of the current nostalgia for the former prime minister, the truth is that Tony Blair had run out of road by the time he resigned. The country wanted to see his back. Brown should not be shadowing Blair. He seems too often to be not so much “Blair-lite” but Blair- heavy. He should set out a programme to reverse the creeping government interference of Blair’s second term. He should abandon ID cards. For good measure, he should announce a framework for the withdrawal of British troops from Iraq. He should openly admit the mistake of cutting the 10p tax rate. He should tell people the unvarnished truth about the economy. He should advocate and practise open government. He should be his own man. It might just work.

Sir Menzies Campbell is the former leader of the Liberal Democrats

“A New Green Deal”

Brown’s first year has brought mistakes that have hugely damaged his reputation among the lowest-paid. If Labour’s support is not to leak away completely, working people need to see he has not forgotten them. So, he has to come up with something big: a visionary set of prudent, practical policies that have, at their heart, fighting poverty and building a better, more resilient economy for the UK. If he has no ideas of his own, he can borrow the Green Party’s. Roosevelt’s New Deal got the United States through a depression and revolutionised infrastructure.

By implementing a Green New Deal, Brown would create thousands of jobs in energy saving, renewable energy and public transport, as well as an economy tough enough to weather a recession, and provide real cuts in fuel and transport bills for working people. Unfortunately, I doubt if he has the vision needed for this kind of gutsy Keynesianism.

Siân Berry is a leading Green Party strategist and was her party’s candidate for London mayor

“Govern in national interest”

Gordon Brown has made the least successful start of any prime minister in modern British history. But just as I thought he was being overbought by the political markets last summer, now I think he’s in danger of being oversold. His capacity for political recovery depends on two things.

First, he must rediscover the aspiration that presumably brought him into politics, and renounce the factional scheming, dissembling and obsession with short-term political positioning that I saw at first hand when I shadowed him for two years. He should forget about endlessly seeking political dividing lines with his opponents, who have long ago learned to step around them, and get on with trying to govern in the national interest.

Second, the Conservative Party veers off the centre

ground, or we take our foot off the accelerator, or we complacently assume that victory is ours. Sadly for Gordon, that is not going to happen.

George Osborne, the youngest Conservative MP when elected in 2001, has been shadow chancellor since May 2005