Saturday 12 May 2007

We need to raise our game

Please find below an article that I wrote for Guardian's Comment Is Free following Gordon Brown's campaign launch:

We need to raise our game

Political artisans will have appreciated the professional technique of Gordon Brown's launch and the careful crafting of the speech. Like Tony Blair's farewell speech yesterday it was modest rather than boastful about the last 10 years.

Nevertheless if we are going to win a resounding victory at the next election, we are going to have to raise our game: to inspire people once again. This has to go beyond vague promises to listen, garnished with hints of change.

People certainly want substance not celebrity, but this substance must comprise a policy programme that not only acknowledges but corrects the mistakes of the last 10 years, and that offers new policies which reflect the real world we live in, not the political bubble inhabited by residents of Downing Street.

The problem with Brown's speech is that it does not accept the current reality. Therefore it does not make the right prescriptions that would represent the radical break needed to rescue Labour's electoral fortunes and inspire our supporters.

With a few minor policy tweaks, Brown's speech came across as largely business as usual on most of the key issues of the day. He identified many of the key issues including Iraq, the NHS, housing, child poverty and the alienation felt in our communities. We all largely agree the agenda, but his policy responses barely moved us forward.

On Iraq, there is no commitment on withdrawal and while the daily bloodbath of innocent Iraqis continues, inaction is not an opportunity. The illegal 2003 invasion had little to do with liberating Iraqis from Saddam Hussein's dictatorship. Instead, the real freedoms and benefits were destined to go to corporations like Halliburton and others that stood to gain from the privatisation of the formerly state-owned Iraqi economy. Withdrawal would mean not only ending the military occupation, but also the economic occupation, so that Iraqis can rebuild their society with our support not our dictates.

The hints at further "reform" of the NHS will alarm both patients and staff alike. We need to arrest the damage that PFI has reaped, plunging trusts into debt and causing cuts in jobs and specialist units. We need an NHS with fewer managers, fewer contractors and more power (rather than choice) to patients - with the input of the real experts: healthcare professionals.

On housing, the chancellor acknowledges the crisis in affordable housing, but said nothing about how he would resolve it - as chancellor he has acted as a block on council's managing and building up the social housing stock. The solution is to give our councils control over social housing so that they can enter into dialogue with their communities about addressing local housing needs, and set a clear target for the hundreds of thousands of homes that we need to build and refurbish over the next five years.

There was an acknowledgement of the rise in child poverty. However, even in this core economic area, Brown offered no solution about how the economy over which he has presided must now be changed and how to now meet our target of eradicating child poverty.

I have drawn together a vision for 21st century socialism, Another World is Possible, which sets out a coherent programme to address all these areas and others such as the environment, the workplace and crime. While Brown offers the market as the solution, we are offering people greater democracy and control over their own lives.