Saturday 11 October 2008

Polly Toynbee retreats

That the rebels have laid down their arms in Parliament creates a dilemma for several scribes in Farringdon Road who had written Gordon Brown off.

Polly Toynbee – voted most influential columnist in Britain, and certainly a voice with influence throughout the Labour Party – makes a partial retreat in today’s Guardian column:

Brown is proving a good man in a crash. The test will come when the heart-stopping drama is over and the country faces dismal years of high unemployment with both state and citizens painfully short of spending money. The mood risks turning sour, as governments everywhere take the blame.

The chancellor's pre-budget report in November will need to spell out new priorities. Can Brown cast aside conventional thinking sufficiently to craft a vision of a good society in bad times? He has the chance because he has earned back the ears of the electorate: they are willing to listen to him again.

This is no mea culpa though. As when Toynbee ditched Brown and argued he must go, as part of a concerted attempt to get the Milibandwagon rolling ("suddenly everything changed"), there is no direct reference to her previous positions. The more cautious tone of today’s column does accurately reflect the fact that political stocks can go down as well as up.

I think Polly is very much right about two things in her column today.

(i) The Labour government’s prospects of political recovery depend on the longer-term response

An ‘experience to see us through’ claim is important in making policy in the crisis and could also prove the platform with which to get a hearing again. But this isn’t, in itself, Labour’s forward-looking political argument by the time we get to an election, which depends crucially on persuading people that a distinctively Labour fairness argument and agenda is relevant to the moment.

(ii) The incongruity of the FT’s How To Spend It magazine. Yesterday’s edition had a bizzare pitch emblazoned across yesterday’s masthead, with a picture of a colourful yellow, red and blue light aircraft:

How To Spend It
Escape the turmoil in the Arizona Desert
Special issue with today’s FT

Any takers – apart from John and Cindy McCain?

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