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Mick Temple’s Blog

LABOUR UP THE JUNCTION IN CREWE

24-05-2008

After The Conservatives won their first by-election in more than quarter of a century, Professor Mick Temple ponders what the result means for the government – and David Cameron.

The people of Crewe and Nantwich could not have delivered a clearer message to Gordon Brown and New Labour - we don’t like you and we don’t like your government. The murmurs of ‘time for a change’ I discussed last week will surely increase in volume and frequency over the next few months. 

How will Brown and the rest of his party respond to such a crushing defeat?

Harriet Harman’s immediate response was to blame it on the economy and say the ‘overwhelming majority’ of Labour supporters are ‘behind Gordon Brown’. Well, they may be Harriet, but in the case of Labour backbenchers that’s only because it’s easier to knife someone in the back.

Unpalatable though it may be for the government, the Crewe electorate did not vote Conservative just because of rising prices – most of us are aware of the cyclical nature of such things and that the price of oil, largely beyond the control of British governments, impacts on all areas of life. It is the way this government has dealt with such difficulties that has aroused voter concern.

Brown’s inability to inspire us is one thing, but the least we expect is an administration that has some sense of direction and purpose. It is Gordon Brown’s competence to lead this country that is being questioned. His response to previous crises, some self-inflicted, has not filled the British people with confidence in his prime ministerial abilities. 

The one crumb of consolation for Brown is that there is still no sign of enthusiasm for a Cameron government. How could there be? We still have very little idea of what the Conservative party would actually do if it won the next election.

Perhaps the most important question that needs to be asked is not how Brown will respond – for many of us he is already the condemned man waiting for his final breakfast. It is – how can David Cameron take the discontent with the government and turn it into enthusiasm for a Conservative alternative?

The time is fast approaching when Cameron will have to tell us what his party stands for and, in detail, give us the Conservative solutions to key issues in health, education and the economy. I know the old saw of ‘oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them’, but only when we know the Conservative manifesto will the electorate be able to judge whether the Tory Toffs are capable of more than standing around in amused detachment watching Brown and his front bench screwing up.

And finally. Before they plunge the knife in, Labour backbenchers need to assess whether assassinating their leader will deliver the electoral benefit they seek - or create an even worse meltdown at the next general election.

We live in interesting times.

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