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Bruce Anderson

Bruce Anderson: Labour's mid-term lead, in the middle of an economic crisis, should be bigger

Term is almost over and the masters cannot wait. That said, many of them will have to, as sports day will last until September. We can only hope that it is better organised than a similar event at Llanabba Castle (if you have not recently re-read Decline and Fall, it is a delightful antidote to the economy, and the weather). Despite the Olympics, the Prime Minister should ensure that all his colleagues have a proper break at some stage over the summer. Not everyone is endowed with his reserves of stamina. Hard months lie ahead and it would be easier for the government to deal with the challenges if ministers were reinvigorated.

Challenges abound. If the government were a Test batsman, its place would be under threat. It has not made a run for months and the old adage "class over form" is growing threadbare. There is a tendency to fatalism. Some senior figures appear to think that as modern politics is about the economy and the economy will not grow, nothing can be done. That is not good enough.

Even in very difficult circumstances, this government has pushed through the most radical education and welfare reforms in sixty years, thus tackling some of the gravest unsolved problems in post-war history. It is an article of faith among left-wing actors, pop singers and similarly silly persons that the NHS is on the point of death, murdered by those horrible Tories. They do not seem to realise first, that spending levels have been protected and second, that the latest performance figures are highly encouraging.

I was one of those who believed that the government was foolish to put the NHS on its agenda, when there was so much else going on. There were others who were always emphatic. Doing nothing was never an option, they would insist. The NHS had to change or crumble. Among the most eloquent was a special advisor, Jenny Parsons, who was never given enough credit. Side-lined for over-enthusiastic briefings, Jenny has another problem. Nicknamed "Pixie", she does indeed look as if she had just climbed down from a toadstool after an elves' parliament. But the girl made a strong case. I always phoned her up to disagree with her and ended up wondering if she might be right. Who knows? Perhaps she was.

I doubt if one in a thousand voters are aware of those social reforms - and how many voters know that as a result of the latest Budget, 24 million people are paying less tax? There is an irony. The government is often accused of being all spin and no substance, yet that is the opposite of the truth. It is not doing nearly enough to project itself.

That might change if the Opposition were more effective. It is true that Milipede minor has been doing better lately. He has also benefited from a recrudescence of Labour tribalism. This should not surprise us. Most of the difficulties during the Brown/Blair era were not ideological. They arose because of Gordon Brown's extraordinary personality, which ensured that the government was in a state of constant turmoil. The longer that Mr Brown continues to perform his Parliamentary duties from Kirkcaldy, the better for the Labour party.

But - and this is very much but - Ed Miliband is unelectable. He is simply not prime ministerial and nothing can be done to make him seem so. The latest polls are registering an eight-and-a-half percent swing since the General Election. In mid-term, in an economic crisis, that is trivial. If Labour had a strong leader - an eight-litre Alan Johnson - British politics would be very different. Of course, if the government were to conduct itself between now and 2015 as it has since Easter, thus rendering itself unelectable, somone would have to emerge on top. In a contest between unelectables, Milipede might still turn into maxipede. In that case, Mr Cameron, all his Ministers and his entire Parliamentary party would deserve to be certified. Fear not: sanity will prevail.

Apropos of sanity, what about the Liberals' end of term assessment? As it happens, they are in a strong position, because they have no choice. They have to do what is best for them: try to make the Coaltion a success and take some of the credit. There is a theoretical alternative. They could say: "Boo-hoo-hoo: we made a terrible mistake. We should never have been friends with those horrid Tories, but we have learned our lesson". If that happened, they would certainly be taught a lesson. Instead, they must find the language of the national interest and insist that they went into coalition, against many of their own instincts, in order to protct the economy. That is not only their best hope; it is their only hope. 

Hope is a tricky commodity. As the clouds oppress our skies, there is a sense that the dramas of Britsh politics are being played on a small stage, and that great global events will disrupt the performance. In recent world history, August has often been a dramatic month. Let us hope that this one keeps a civil tongue in its head.


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