Some of this week’s debate about ‘whither new Labour’ makes me think we’re debating short words at a time of huge global changes. But there’s no doubt that in the space of a fortnight, what John Prescott called ‘the tectonic plates’ of politics have moved decisively. New Labour has shown once again that its home ground is the centre ground. But David Cameron, in a twist that has become the hallmark of recent Tory bids for definition, has ended any bid to stick to the centre in favour of an approach that can only be described as ‘rolling back the years’, back to the 1980s. Cameron’s ‘new Labour’ moment is over. The Tories have reverted to type. And what’s now clear is that they now have no plan for the downturn – and crucially no plan for a fairer society when an upturn comes.
Cameron can sound different to Thatcher. He draws on different Conservative traditions. But both Thatcher and Cameron’s stories have the same ending; roll back the state; accept as inevitable unfairness today and social division tomorrow.
Cameron’s once concern for a broken society may have stood the focus group test last year but it doesn’t seem to be standing the “money where your mouth is” test this year. This week we have seen the most extraodinary confusion in the Conservative party on economic policy. Yet, their big step is dropping the Tory committment to match Labour’s spending plans. In my article for Progress today I’ve set out a bit of a reminder of just how confused their economic policy has now become – but how they plan too to rip out every rung of the ladder of opportunity – Sure Starts, better schools, stronger opportunities at 16, more youngsters going to university, and workplace skills training – when the upturn comes. You can find Progress’ website here.
This week, we confirmed you will always see us stick like glue to the centre-ground – globally applauded economic management alongside absolute determination to deliver a fairer Britain. That’s always been new Labour’s way. Enduring values applied to changing circumstances. We believe that the life chances of every family and every young person can’t be put on hold. We did that in Tory recessions and we lost a generation.