David Taylor-Gooby: If Labour is to win it must show it is not the same as the other parties

Journal columnist David Taylor-Gooby says he wants to see a Labour victory at the election - but it has got work to do

David Taylor-Gooby
David Taylor-Gooby

It is difficult at this stage to predict the election result, so I won’t try. I’ll just make a few observations about how I would like the campaign to go.

Now it is no secret I think a Labour victory would be best for the North East, as do many members of the electorate.

But I am realistic about the situation. We do not know how well Ukip will do. They are appealing directly to those who feel they are “left behind” by the mainstream parties.

Many of these people have not voted in the past, so much depends on whether Ukip can get them to do so. I do not think they are very likely, however, to win seats in this part of the world.

But to win Labour must appeal to those outside the North East. The party has to secure an overall majority, so it must address issues which concern everyone.

So far the broadcasts have concentrated on the characters of the leaders, and in fact the Conservatives seem to be focusing on their perceived weaknesses of the leader of the Labour Party and the Shadow Chancellor.

What I would rather see is much more debate and discussion about the long term issues facing the country, some sort of vision as to the type of country the leaders would like to see.

When Ed Miliband began to do this in the Paxman interview his ratings went up. So I do not accept the argument that people do not care about that sort of thing.

Think of the alternative. People are influenced by the polls. They tend to follow the behaviour they think the majority are pursuing.

So when we are constantly told we are likely to have a “hung parliament” people think it is fine to vote for minority parties to give the others a “good kicking”.

They think it is OK because in the end the minority party will team up with one of the big ones. The big parties have not articulated a vision which they can “buy into”.

The result could be what the Americans call “log rolling”. Support is conditional on extra money for some project in their area. Not good for strong government.

So what are the big issues which people can “buy into”? I assume that everyone thinks the economy should be run well, and if people feel you are not economically competent there is not much you can do about it. The big issues of principle are the NHS and Europe.

British people are rightly proud of the NHS and foreigners admire it.

But it does face challenges. As the Kings Fund recently pointed out it has been starved of resources during the period of the Coalition Government. Average growth in funding was between 0.6 and 0.9% a year, comparted to 5.6% a year between 1996/7 and 2009/10.

This does not make itself felt for several years, thanks mainly to the dedication and hard work of the staff, but it is beginning to show now.

Efficiency savings have been largely exhausted and the service is likely to record a deficit this year. People know that in the long term the NHS needs more resources if it is to survive, and I think will support a party which is honest about this and willing to debate the issues with the public. They also know that Labour believes in the NHS, rather than just tolerating it because it is popular as many Tories do.

The other issue is Europe. The Tories are divided on this, and the anti-Europeans will cause trouble for Mr Cameron.

A referendum would dominate politics to the exclusion of all other issues. I do not think the Euro sceptics would trust David Cameron to renegotiate terms. Labour has to be clear it is pro-European, although willing to reform welfare systems to prevent abuse by migrants. Most of the other European countries agree with this.

So there we are. At the moment we hear too much of “they are all the same”. If Labour is to pull ahead it must show they are not.

David Taylor-Gooby is a Free Lance Writer. His latest book, The NHS, A Challenge for us all” will be published shortly.

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