Michael White’s podcast of the Labour launch was more upbeat and less depressingly tribal than I might have feared. It is only 15 minutes long. (Again, I have to say how quick and bright Ed Balls comes across as.) There does seem to be a theme, and it is The State can Help You (and look at how much it has helped in the last year). Philip Stephens on his blog sort of agrees:
The thread running through Gordon Brown’s prospectus is that government makes the difference. My doubts lie in the balance between supportive (”active” in Peter Mandelson’s favourite phrase) and suffocating government. Labour has it broadly right on the economy and mostly wrong on the shape of public services.
The ‘relentless reforming’ that Brown wanted to project must have had Blair spluttering into his soup. Or whatever TB consumes at midday. Brown was the reason that Blair’s radical reforming manifesto of 2005 did not become real. See the FT editorial (Labour lacks the will to shrink the state):
Labour acknowledged its mistakes in the 2005 manifesto, the last of Tony Blair’s pitches for power. That radical document pledged to open up public services to competition from private providers … Since then, the Academies – the government’s independent state schools – have outperformed other schools. Private healthcare providers have both driven up standards and cut waiting lists. But this liberalisation drive has run out of steam. Mr Brown was never seized of Mr Blair’s reforming fervour. Indeed, he often blocked reform.
And as Stephens points out,
“Whitehall remains in the driving seat – Mr Brown’s Labour prefers central targets and service “guarantees” to the individual choice and competition that could drive self-sustaining improvements. The manifesto reveals an abiding suspicion of localism and diversity and invites the conclusion that Labour prefers uniformity to excellence”
In the meantime, the odds on a hung parliament remain at roughly 35% (with the Tories 60%). But the pound has rallied in recent days, again making that conventional wisdom that Hung = Doomed look foolish to me, as I have kept saying. While finance directors are still surveyed as saying they are worried about a hung parliament, I really don’t put much weight on their views. The quotes are just saloon-bar opining (“stop wasting billions”). What company chiefs need is high demand and available finance; neither are currently at risk, and as the other survey in the article froM BDO Stoy Hayward reveals, their optimism is a multi-year highs. That does not chime with a 35% chance of the Doom that is Hung Parliaments. This letter presents a strong riposte:
What clear majority governments do is pump through endless legislation in the Westminster law-making sausage machine. Many of these laws or the prospect of them create blight, uncertainty, cost, and general economic mayhem. Yet no one says: “A clear majority would be bad for business.” Making two parties (or more – government of national unity anyone?) work together would actually serve the national economic interest by forcing the executive to focus on good governance and economic management rather than legislative self-actualisation in parliament.
And on the subject of the Pound, exports seem to be turning around. The possibility of bad GDP figures derailing Brown’s bid at the last minute is receding.