We can act on Conservative vulnerability

On Sunday morning I thought everything would be OK.

I’d started to read the Observer and on the inlay page saw that Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman had told Will Hutton in an interview that the UK economy was the best in Europe, and that not only are we seeing off the last dregs of the financial crisis, but we may well have beaten the city anaylists predicitions.

Well, I thought, aren’t we glad that the rebels bailed out last minute, that Blears apologised for leaving the way she did, that Miliband had a change of heart 9 days previous, and that despite all its talk, Compass effectively did nothing to start a ruck with the right wing of the Labour Party.

For that moment I thought we on the left were wrong, and for that moment it was a good thing we accepted GB in our lives.

That is until today, a most eventful day.

Virtually nobody has supported the decision to hold the Iraq inquiry in secret, from bloggers to the left (Sunder Katwala), to bloggers on the right (plenty to choose from, but I will stick with Iain Dale), from David Cameron and his call for openness, to Richard Norton-Taylor calling it ‘Another Whitehall whitewash‘.

The decision by Brown – though good in itself as Katwala remembers to credit – to hold the inquiry in public is allowing too much space for Cameron to manoeuvre, just like the public spending divide in the party has allowed space for George Osborne to appear on top of things, despite his expenses claims – which news of just disappeared into thin air – and his party’s plans to cut spending on public services anyway.

Of course as it is quite clear, the Tories cannot win on strategy – Osborne only has the Labour Party’s indecision making as ammunition, spending cuts are unpopular – but they can shout us down on competence – and we should not allow it any more (especially given the extension to their lead in the latest ICM poll).

But the – currently disavowed – battle between right and left in the Labour Party, over spending, and party direction – is not the same as the “in-fighting” John Prescott was moaning about at the weekend.

He mentioned;

“[I]magine my surprise when I was walking through Portcullis House in the House of Commons on Thursday and stumbled upon a meeting held by Charles Clarke, John Reid, Alan Milburn and a few others, huddled together in intense discussion.

I went over and offered to be the secretary for their little club. With nervous laughter, my offer was turned down.”

I’m pretty sure it isn’t the same anyway, and if it should happen to be the same, then Prezza is wrong. But I interpreted his remarks as this; currently there exists childish banter between frontbenchers that is only earning them media coverage – say for example, Miliband’s pointless revelation on Sunday – and it is obfuscating any real discussion on party direction, something that all in the party can agree is creating a massive void for the Tories to fill, at a time when their in-fighting is just as striking as ours.

And on that very subject, it should not be seen as unimportant the words uttered by Kenneth Clarke today: “If the Irish referendum endorses the treaty and ratification comes into effect, then our settled policy is quite clear that the treaty will not be reopened.”

This spurred on

“Bill Cash, the Eurosceptic backbench Tory MP, [who] demanded to know if Mr Clarke’s comments were sanctioned by the party leadership.

He said it was essential that Britain held a referendum on Lisbon, irrespective of the Irish vote. He added: “It appears that Kenneth Clarke has reinvented unilaterally Conservative Party policy on the whole of the Lisbon Treaty and European policy.”

This in-fighting has caught the attention of two main bloggers, firstly the Archbishop has said (in third person, of course);

“But Cranmer is puzzled by something further. Mr Clarke said that he decided to re-join the Conservative front bench because the Party is ‘less Eurosceptic than it was’.

When? Under which leader?”

And Bob Piper has said about it;

“It always amazes me how many Conservatives think of the Party as being eurosceptic. They are not. They know the public are though, and therefore, in opposition, they have consistently played the eurosceptic card.”

Overall, the Labour Party with a bit more punch, a bit more direction, and a lot less media curtsying could challenge a presently vulnerable Tory party. And it shouldn’t wait another second to attempt it.

Update: A concrete direction with regard to public services can now achieve two things: firstly it can dampen the blow of, and try to recitfy quickly, the TUC prediction that job losses in the public sector are inevitable. And second it will enable commitment over the Tories; “the party of cuts“.

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