IN THE perfect political storm currently pulverising Gordon Brown, there is a lifeline about to be thrown which could drag him and his sinking Government in a new direction and into more favourable electoral waters. It is perhaps an optimistic scenario and one which could be washed away completely within weeks if the result in Glasgow East delivers a big enough wave. The game may then be up for Mr Brown.
But every indication, except the interpretation peddled by the Daily Mail and its friends, points to the unions and the party activists presenting the Government with the framework for an election manifesto that is both comprehensive and relevant in its appeal to the millions of voters Labour needs to win back.
Whatever substantially emerges from the Warwick II process and the National Policy Forum at the end of this month will be crucial to the future of the Government and the Labour Party.
That is why those who want to destroy both, or are stuck in a time warp in their attitude to the unions, or simply do not understand the strategy that is being pursued, portray the process as a power struggle between the unions who want to get something back for their money and the Government which, as the Prime Minister said this week, does not want a “return to the 70s” of secondary picketing and the perception of overblown union power.
As Unite’s Tony Dubbins said in response to this distortion of the unions’ motivation and intent: “The relationship between the unions and Labour isn’t some sort of sordid financial arrangement.” Rather, it is, or should be, a partnership based on shared values and goals aimed at achieving a fairer, more equal, society.
Union leaders have no interest in being seen as attempting to blackmail the Government into giving them stronger powers in exchange for their cash. At the same time, they are all too well aware of the political sensitivity for a Government, especially one already in a state of meltdown, pushing new laws on industrial action up the political agenda.
The unions, like the party activists who are rallying around progressive submissions to the policy-making process, want to come out of it with an election-winning manifesto that will make people’s lives more rewarding and Britain a fairer country. That’s why they have adopted an agenda based on a broad range of bread-and-butter issues, as we have been reporting and continue to do so in this issue (see page 5).
It is necessary not just because it is the right thing to do for their own members and the country but because of the paucity of ideas contained in the original six documents drafted by party officials.
It is difficult to find concrete manifesto proposals on anything that could make up a coherent election platform for a democratic socialist party.
That is the bigger problem which lies behind Mr Brown’s public travails. “New” Labour is a burnt out shell, though regrettably significant parts of its legacy linger, not least because the Prime Minister was, and is, a defender of them. Labour has been left without a road map. With no defined, purposeful direction, it is in search of one. The route is being mapped out.
But in order to be saved a drowning man has to reach out and grasp the lifeline. The danger is that Mr Brown himself may be stuck in the 1970s – it was a Labour Prime Minister deciding to get tough with the unions over public sector pay that provided the catalyst for the “winter of discontent”.
Mr Brown needs to curtail his fear of being seen as a prisoner of the unions and start to champion some of the causes they espouse. He should genuinely listen and, realising that there is much to benefit the people his Government is supposed to represent, stand up to his friend Paul Dacre at the Mail.
If not, he stands in danger of being guilty to the charge made by Martin Rowson (page 11), that he represents everything Labour should abhor. If not, he stands to go down justifiably at the next election and, unjustifiably and, unforgiveably, take the Labour Party in its present form with him.