Tuesday 26 September 2006

Issue Avoidance

I wrote this comment piece for Guardian Unlimited yesterday:

Issue Avoidance
Gordon Brown's failure to address concerns about Iraq, privatisation or the controversy over Trident shows how out of touch he is

To be fair, Gordon Brown was in a no win situation as he approached yesterday's speech. Carefully planned to herald in his transition to leadership of the Labour Party it was widely judged that he needed to give the speech of his lifetime.

The formula was fairly obvious. Pay respects to Tony Blair, show Gordon the person, set out a record of achievement, do the vision thing, hint at a few big ideas and finally round on the Tories.

The problem was that it sounded like a speech too long in preparation and so nervously drafted that it avoided any controversy. As a result key issues facing not just the Labour Party conference but more importantly the real world outside were just finessed over.

How could any leading politician avoid addressing directly the bloodbath that is Iraq? How could Gordon fail to take on the concerns of not just the public sector unions but communities across the country about the latest round of NHS cutbacks and privatisation in the health service?

And at a Labour Party conference especially, how could he fail to mention the hottest issue causing controversy amongst even his own supporters, the spending of £76 billion on renewing Trident?

Nobody could disagree with his rallying call that "working together the good society can and will be built" but there was nothing by way of concrete policies on how this "motherhood and apple pie vision" could be achieved. The only policies announced were largely rehashed from past speeches, including his last budget speech.

How many times have we seen politicians in office become cut off from the outside world and become unaware that the world has moved on? Gordon seems oblivious to the change in mood in the country.

There is an underlying rumbling for change. A new generation is emerging which wants its politicians to address the hard issues openly and directly. They are up for it. The question they are posing is: "Is the Labour Party?"