I might not express myself in exactly the same way as John Prescott, but it is hard to disagree with his assessment on the Go Fourth website that there was a lack of proper campaigning in the run up to yesterday’s elections. I also agree with John that the responsibility for that cannot solely be laid at Gordon Brown’s door.
He, Cabinet ministers, the rest of government, the PLP all have a responsibility at election time to help the Labour Party fight and win seats on local councils and in the European Parliament. Councillors being tipped out of office today have every reason to feel that the national mood, rather than their ability or otherwise to run local services, is what has seen many of them out of the door.
Of course the expenses furore made a bad atmosphere worse, but we should not pretend these results are all down to that. The mood has not been great for some time, and the lack of a clear and strong campaign based on defending the record, (a good one) attacking our opponents (they are not that good) and consistently setting out an agenda for the future (it is there) has been evident for some time too.
When I wrote on here a while back that I had seen only one Labour poster between my home and Heathrow airport – the one in my window – messages came from people all over the country saying much the same thing about the low visibility of the campaign.
I will admit there has also been a fair bit of comment and criticism, particularly on Facebook, saying I could and should have become more involved at the centre. I have always been very clear about this – I am happy to help GB and the Party, but I decided back in 2003 that I was not going to go back into a full-time position anything like the ones I held under Tony Blair, and that remains the case.
Part of trying to help was setting up Go Fourth with John, Dick Caborn and Glenys Kinnock in the first place. I have blogged on here before about some of the campaigning we did, and like John I found that when you made the effort to get out there with a positive message, people were more willing to listen and engage than many of the MPs at Westminster were saying.
Of course personnel is important, but it is also about strategic direction. So as ministers unite around GB as he conducts his reshuffle today, there has to be real clarity about what it is they are uniting around, and then they have to step up the political fight at every level.
There is one big ray of hope in all this for Labour. The results so far show that there is no overwhelming desire for the Tories. Cameron and Co like to say they are modelling their campaign in many ways on the way Tony Blair handled the run up to power in 1997. At an equivalent stage in 1996, even without an expenses fiasco, even without ministers jumping overboard every few minutes, we were doing far better than Cameron’s Tories are in better economic and political circumstances than they could ever have imagined.
JP’s rage is that of a man who knows a thing or two about campaigning and who thinks the battle is still there to be won, but looks back at recent weeks and fears the fight for it wasn’t there. The ministers being appointed now have been given a last chance to prove him wrong.