EXCLUSIVEIf the polls and pundits are to be believed, within two years or so, David Cameron will be prime minister and the Conservatives back in power.
People should cast their minds back to the mid-Nineties, when the Labour Party under Neil Kinnock held commanding poll leads and won great by-election victories. The same lesson is there for both parties in the subsequent re-election of the Tories in 1992. For the Tories: not to assume that poll leads automatically translate to seats. For Labour: never to give up, never to bow down before fatalism or the self-serving hope of opponents in a self-fulfilling prophesy.
The only real answer to the pollsters’ question, “If there were a general election tomorrow, how would you vote?”, is: “There isn’t one.” A lot can happen between now and then.
There is, however, one enormous difference between 1992 and now, and it is this difference to which Labour has to be particularly alert. In that election, and the one which followed in 1997, the big issue was the opposition party, Labour.
Were we fit to govern? Had we changed sufficiently to win back the trust of the people? Had we really thought through the policies, and did the sums add up?
A combination of a highly effective political organisation, and a media that largely followed its strategic lead, ensured that the only party under real intense scrutiny was ours.
Yet now, with the Tories well ahead in the polls, when it comes to real scrutiny, it is as though they didn’t really exist.
Labour needs to rediscover the passion that gave us victory in the first place, to defend our record with pride
If most of us were to stop people at random in the street, and ask them to name three things that David Cameron would do as prime minister, it is not an insult to the public to suggest most would struggle to answer.
Likewise, most people would struggle to name more than two or three current members of the shadow cabinet. The people who would run our schools, hospitals, roads, armed forces are virtual unknowns outside the Westminster village.
This is not merely the result of a media bored with the story of Labour in power and keen for a new set of characters to populate the soap opera that passes for media debate on policy. It is also the result of a deliberate Conservative strategy to avoid policy, avoid facing the difficult decisions that politics ultimately requires you to make, and go along with the media game of making Gordon Brown the only story in town, preferably with as negative a slant as can be found.
There is no point in moaning, however. We have to do something about it. Not just the Prime Minister, not just the cabinet or the MPs, this includes anyone who understands that Britain is best served by a fourth-term Labour government, not a return to a Conservative Party scared to bring forward policies of substance because its MPs and members have not changed sufficiently to embrace anything other than the style and froth Mr Cameron is very good at.
That is why we are urging people to sign up to a new campaigning organisation, Go Fourth – Campaign for a Labour Fourth Term – a campaign dedicated to supporting the fight for the re-election of a Labour government and committed to the same principles and values that have won us an unprecedented three consecutive victories.
We passionately believe this party needs to get off the back foot, out of its despondency, and start campaigning on our proud record of government so we can take the fight to the Tories.
It’s not going to be easy – we need to work harder than we’ve ever worked, campaign better than we’ve ever campaigned and reach out wider than we ever have.
To this end, the campaign’s main aims will be to:
Proudly defend the record of the Labour government since 1997;
Actively support the government in promoting policies that will build on our successes;
Encourage greater participation in the Labour Party;
Highlight the damage a Conservative government will do to Britain.
Anyone who supports these four aims, and who believes Britain’s best interests will be maintained by a Labour not a Tory government, is welcome to join our Campaign for a Labour Fourth Term. We are looking beyond politicians, or those who are normally active in the political debate, to a wider support. When we launch in six weeks’ time, we’ll spell out just how we can all come together to take on the Conservatives.
There were those who believed, when Labour lost the 1992 election – having been so far ahead in the polls, only to see that lead erode – that we would never get power again. Five years later, we were elected in a landslide.
Our opponents then pointed out that Labour had never secured two full successive terms in power.
When we won another landslide, some felt it would not be possible to win a third term. Yet, even after all the difficulties raised in the debate over Iraq, Labour did win a third term.
A fourth term, once unthinkable, remains a real prospect. More than that, it is vital to the future of Britain.
The Tory party has had to accept many of the changes Labour has made for the country. But while Britain has changed for the better, we should never forget that the Tories opposed the changes needed to make those improvements. And any analysis of their policy prospectus shows an unchanged party that has little understanding of the role of government in helping people face the challenges of modern life.
“Time for a change” is their only cry. But change to what? That is a question that the Campaign for a Labour Fourth Term will help the country answer.
The change would be to an outmoded, old-fashioned, elitist party determined to take Britain back to the days when the country was run by and for a privileged few, not for the many.
We are proud of what Labour has achieved for Britain. And we are determined to do what we can to stop the country going back to the Conservatives.
Rightly in politics, there is an enormous focus on the party leaders. But the fight cannot be won by them alone. Labour needs to rediscover the passion that gave us victory in the first place, to defend our record with pride, promote our policy agenda with confidence, knowing that we are alone in having thought through policies to meet the great challenges of our time.
Now is the time to get back on the campaign trail. So let’s get knocking on the doors, fighting on the web and tackling the Conservatives through the media.
The Tories are still the same old Tories; offering the same quack prescriptions and easy options. We’ve beaten them three times already, so let’s go for a fourth and stop them gaining a victory they have done absolutely nothing to deserve.
So, if you believe in fairness, equality and social justice, it’s time to stand up and be counted.
It’s time for you to join us in our Campaign for a Labour Fourth Term.
John Prescott is the former deputy prime minister; Alastair Campbell is the former director of communications and strategy for the Prime Minister’s Office; Richard Caborn is MP for Sheffield Central; Glenys Kinnock MEP represents Wales in the European Parliament