As Liam Fox and Chris Huhne were embarrassing themselves and the government last night, I won’t have been the only one to have liked the younger, more feminine look of the new shadow cabinet.
But I am sure Ed Miliband and his team understand – getting the new team together is the easy bit. Now they have to show they can do the three things required of an Opposition strategy – defend themselves, attack the other lot, and give a sense of what a Labour future would be like.
To take them one by one.
1. Defending themselves. That also means defending Labour’s record in government. The Tories have been trashing it as an act of strategy – on the economy and public services in particular on which, despite the crash, we have a terrific record to defend. Stop apologising for it, which plays into Tory hands, and start fighting for it. It is essential to winning back trust on the economy and everything that flows from that.
2. Attacking the other lot. They have an economic plan not working. They have health reforms which have united practitioners and public in opposition. They have school reforms the good bits of which were borrowed from us, the bad bits of which are taking the country back to good education for an elite not the many. The cops are offside with their police plans. They are divided on justice and prisons. They have given up on the environment. Because of stupid positions adopted opportunistically in opposition they are running out of airline capacity and their energy policy is a mess. Services left right and centre that help The Big Society (not mentioned in Cameron’s conference speech) actually mean something are being scrapped. Their defence secretary is an overambitious messer who is on the verge of causing a reshuffle. They are messing about on Europe, as per their DNA. The Prime Minister showed last week that beyond looking the part, he is clueless about how to solve the big problems of our time. They are sitting targets every one of them. So let’s find the energy and the oomph to hit them.
3. The future. Always the most important bit. But with a new team, and an election some way off, there is time. But there has to be a process clearly leading to the detailed policies to be put to the people next time. The detail is for then. The interesting ideas and arguments are for now.
Opposition is hard. You lack the huge support of a government machine. You can’t actually change people’s lives.
But you can think, talk, harry, campaign. And every night before they go to bed every member of the shadow cabinet should be thinking – what can I do tomorrow to defend us, attack them and show we get the future? Then they should sleep, get up and do it. Again and again, day after day, as a team, which reaches its peak just before the election is called.
Easier said than done, maybe. But doable nonetheless.