Brown speech: The response
Read all the betting odds, responses and criticisms published in the wake of Gordon Brown’s speech to the Labour conference.
By Ian Dunt
As soon as Gordon Brown finished speaking, the new odds came in. William Hill cut the odds of him staying in place to lead Labour into the general election from 4/7 to 4/9 and lengthened its odds on him being out of office by then from 5/4 to 13/8. “Mr Brown’s speech clearly delighted conference, so he may have reduced the pressure on him in the short-term,” said the firm’s spokesman, Graham Sharpe.
But results weren’t clean-cut. Paddy Power didn’t expect the speech to make any difference to Labour’s electoral prospects. Labour’s odds on winning a fourth consecutive election victory remain unchanged at 11/2 with the Conservatives remaining hot favourites at 1/12. Spokesman Darren Haines said: “As expected, Brown’s speech should give him a bounce in the polls with the childcare and pensions announcements likely to be well-received. However it didn’t appear to go far enough to suggest at this stage that an election victory might be possible.”
Party responses were more predictable. David Cameron left it to Conservative party chairman Eric Pickles, the so-called John Prescott of Tory politics – to issue a rebuttal. “This was a speech with no vision and no argument – just a long shopping list with no price tag,” he said. “Gordon Brown continues to treat people like fools. He didn’t acknowledge the mistakes he has made or that his government has run out of money. He talked about change and a new age – but this speech was full of the same old political attacks and was firmly stuck in the past.”
Danny Alexander, chief of staff to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg had this to say: “Gordon Brown’s speech showed just how tired and bereft of new thinking the Labour party is. His new announcements were a hotchpotch of the ineffective and the ill-thought through, rehashed press releases, copied ideas and humiliating U-turns. The fact is Gordon Brown has presided over a huge and widening gap between the richest and the poorest, he has failed a generation of young people, overseen the collapse of the banking system and the disgrace of our political system. Britain needs a fresh start. The real choice is now between the real change offered by the Liberal Democrats and the fake change offered by the Conservatives.”
Scottish National party Westminster leader Angus Robertson branded the speech “a desperate last throw of the dice”. He went on: “People will not be impressed with promises of action that should have been delivered years ago and many which are now being delivered by the SNP in Scotland. It says everything when the biggest cheer the prime minister got was when he ditched his government’s plans for compulsory ID cards – a truly humiliating climb down after eight years of insisting they were essential. Where he did make such policy commitments, he was playing catch up with the position of the SNP on free personal care, tackling climate change, House of Lords reform, supporting Post Offices and, of course, on the issue of constitutional referendums. As if Scottish Labour’s position on a referendum was not confused enough, Gordon Brown has just undermined Iain Gray’s arguments that it is not the time to say you want to let people have their say on the constitution.
Meanwhile, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green party, criticised the prime minister’s claims of progressiveness with a full critique of Labour’s years in power. “Brown talked of Labour’s onward march of fairness and justice – but we have a wider gap between rich and poor after 12 years of Labour,” she said. “Labour has had 12 years to change the voting system, to restore the earnings link to pensions, 12 years to work for nuclear disarmament by axing Trident, to make the Post Office sustainable, and to provide fair wages for working people. And they have not. Brown talked of free education and expanded university places, but Labour has been the government to introduce tuition fees and rising student debt.”
The party welcomed Brown’s aim for 250,000 new green jobs, and up to 10,000 green job placements for youth, but warned that the prime minister’s promises had to be taken with a pinch of salt. “Unfortunately, Gordon Brown has a track record of grandly announcing projects that led nowhere — whether it was midnight football, citizens’ juries, or a NHS constitution that ended up having no new enforceable rights,” Ms Lucas said.
There was also harsh criticism of the PM’s plans to put teenage parents receiving welfare in supervised housing. “We strongly object to the idea of forcing all 16 and 17 year-old parents on taxpayer support into a network of supervised homes,” she said. “It would be a form of paternalistic, 21st-century workhouse. Teen parents flounder, as we’ve had 12 years of Labour without support for carers, and childcare provision that has been very patchy across the country. We need projects that encourage teen self-esteem and sex education, not punishment after the fact for teen mothers and fathers.”
Friends of the Earth attacked Mr Brown for not going far enough on green issues.
“Gordon Brown is right to celebrate the achievement of the Climate Change Act and recognise that our future economy must be green – but given the urgency and scale of the action needed to tackle climate change, it’s disappointing that he failed to set out much bolder vision for a low-carbon future,” the group’s executive director, Andy Atkins, said. “The climate crisis will dwarf the financial one if we fail to take large-scale action now.”
If Brown had expected support from constitutional reformers after his pledge to hold a referendum on Alternative Vote early in the next parliament he was very much mistaken. “Gordon Brown has managed the unique achievement of coming up with a programme of electoral reform that will satisfy no-one,” said Peter Facey, director of Unlock Democracy. “The Alternative Vote system, whilst offering the voter greater choice, is not proportional and a mere baby step in the face of the widening chasm between voter and politician. Parliament will remain as unrepresentative – and subsequently unresponsive – as ever. There is no demand amongst the wider public for this change and it is hard to see how a referendum on the subject will actually motivate people to come out and vote.”
The reception from Power 2010 was hardly any better. “The real tragedy is that the chance to make his mark as the reforming prime minister has already passed him by,” said the group’s director, Pam Giddy. Ms Giddy was evidently concerned by the fact most of the constitutional reforms were promised for after the general election. “In a strong conference speech, the weakest part was on making politics work better,” she commented. “A key theme Brown used today was rebuilding trust in our institutions. The right to recall, a referendum on a new voting system and abolishing hereditary peers are central to rebuilding this trust. These are powerful promises for change. But these are post-election promises. When the PM took office he promised a new settlement – not piecemeal reform. When the expenses scandal hit – he returned to this theme of re-establishing trust between those in power and the people. Today he had the opportunity to accept that he had failed to deliver on these and re-commit himself to further more deep rooted democratic reform. He failed to do so.”
Meanwhile, MPs from Brown’s own party were criticising the speech’s priorities. Frank Field, the renegade Labour backbencher, immediately issued a press release together with his partner in his campaign against Britain’s current immigration policy – Tory MP Nicholas Soames – questioning the prime minister’s grasp of the issue. “The prime minister has still yet to grasp how serious the immigration question is,” the pair wrote. “The tightening of the immigration system, which the prime minister mentioned, will, on the government’s own calculation, reduce immigration by less than ten per cent. If we are to avoid the UK’s population hitting 70 million, it must be reduced by 75 per cent.”
On the civil liberties front, No2ID, a campaign group which fights plans for identity cards, was particularly scathing about claims no new information would be required for biometric passports and that ID cards would not become compulsory in the next parliament. “Mr Brown is a Lewis Carroll character: he imagines ‘what I tell you three times is true’,” said Guy Herbert, general secretary of the group. “Even if it repetition makes it easier for ministers to delude themselves, this is the same misleading line as before. Whatever he says about a card, the plan remains the same: to treat the entire population like dangerous sex offenders and keep us all on a Home Office database for life.”
There was some good news for the prime minister, however. David Orr, chief executive, of the National Housing Federation, welcomed plans to roll out ‘family intervention projects’ to thousands of problem families. “Housing associations have long been at the vanguard of projects to support troubled families and the neighbourhoods in which they live,” he said. “Indeed, dozens of landlords voluntarily deliver projects for thousands of families up and down the country, saving the public purse up to £250,000 for each family helped. We welcome government recognition of this work, and support the rolling out of it in the future where housing associations feel family intervention projects would be beneficial. Indeed we asked the government to bring forward this funding three years ago in our submission to the 2007 spending review.”
Children’s groups were overjoyed at promises of free day-care for two-year-olds. ” Daycare Trust joint chief executive Alison Garnham said: “It is fantastic news that Gordon Brown has announced a further extension of the free childcare entitlement for two year olds. We understand that about a third of two year olds will be covered by the end of the next parliament.”
Dr Mary Bousted, general secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers (ATL), welcomed plans for school funding. “We were delighted by the prime minister’s pledge not to cut, but to increase funding for schools over the next five years. We now ask the Conservative and Liberal Democratic parties if they will match this pledge.”
The sections of the speech on state intervention in the market were warmly welcomed by trade unions. Derek Simpson’s joint general secretary of Unite, Britain’s biggest trade union, lavished praise on the Labour leader. “Get ready for a historic political come back,” he said, immediately after the speech. “Gordon is off the ropes, he’s fighting back and landing punches on the Tories. It’s now time to get behind the prime minister to win the next election. We have a choice ahead of us, either a Tory government who would have led Britain into a depression, will make savage cuts and destroy jobs, or a Labour government which will not put Britain’s economic recovery at risk.”
But the warmest welcome for the speech came from those inside the hall. With a resounding standing ovation and a jubilant reaction throughout Mr Brown’s strong performance, the William Hill odds of Brown being more secure in his position look highly believable. It might not be enough to win the election, but the signs are good when it comes to staying leader of the Labour party.