On Burnham and opposition

Alistair Darling winces on television noticeably more often from the dislocated position of Shadow Chancellor than he did from the luxurious comfort of No. 11, but it’s not all doom and gloom for Labour and wearers of the red rose nationwide.

Harriet Harman addressed an email to Labour Party members today in which she said:

“I said today in the House of Commons that we will not oppose for the sake of it – that’s not what the public wants.  But we will not pull our punches.  We will be vigilant – to protect jobs and businesses.  We will be determined – to prevent unfairness. And we will speak up for the public services that matter so much.”

It is late in the day to be concerned with what the public wants; such things were to be considered in the years and months leading to the election.  But what’s worse, these are the words of a party well and truly in opposition and it has only been a matter of weeks.  The party representatives, particularly the leadership, must be more driven, more focused on plugging the gaps in both the ruling coalition’s rhetoric and the empty verse spooned out by Labour while in government.

This is not a bad time to be in opposition, if such a fate must befall the Labour Party.  Maurice Greene, former 100m world record holder, always used to say to be #1 you had to train as if you were #2 (look at the Bio, not the open-shirt picture); if you train like #1 you had no place to go.  And Labour undoubtedly did that – complacency was their reward.  The results of the election showed simply that the nation didn’t want Conservative or Liberal Democrat government, but that it didn’t want Labour in charge either.  The problems that existed still do and though time has eased them, as a public we still wait for corrections to be made and no government can sit comfortably until such a time as this happens.

So Labour need change and Andy Burnham has stepped into the leadership race in entirely the correct way.  His speeches bristle with the same intent and purpose as did those of Nick Clegg when making such broad impact during the televised debates.  Burnham approaches the race as if it is incidental to his will to make change, not vice versa, as was the overriding sentiment of the premiership of Gordon Brown.  He talks and acts as a man with an aim and this is what the Labour Party has lacked since the golden days when Tony Blair was popular.  It seems a simple solution to politics that for some reason politicians become more blind to the more seasoned they are; popularity wins votes and what makes politicians popular is to draw close to the people and their needs.

Burnham has critiqued both his party and its policies, closing in on the concerns of the electorate and at once distancing himself from the cobwebs of the last government.  He has time to garner support, if done well, and to build this start into a platform of real substance.  Not much stock was put in Conservative policies before May 6th and should reality unfold the same way, Labour may be in the favourable position of appearing to be the clean-up act to their own mess soon enough.  But what must be avoided are the mistakes of the past.  The whole affair that brought Brown into power reeked of every bad cliché of cronyism that there is; the party must learn, ironically, from Cameron and Clegg and inject life, not just shuffle the same cards and act like the hand is different.

The Miliband brothers, Diane Abbott, Ed Balls; all were senior enough in their own spheres to have had their chance to initiate change from within.  Waiting for the inevitable fall of Brown before stepping from the shadows to take his place, is the same typical tired story of the bland continuance of political mire that strangled the Labour Party government long before any recession did.  It’s not enough anymore.

Ed Miliband reaching the level of internal votes needed to stand for the leadership is all well and good as a start, but alone it is simply a sign of recognition from members of a failed and fallen government that had its chance.  More must be done in order to gain any further ground than that internal recognition and sooner rather than later is the time for them all to realise this if a return to power is truly to be earned.

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