Labourâ€™s loss of Glasgow East has come after the start of the long Parliamentary recess. It means John Mason will have to wait eleven weeks before he can take his seat, eleven weeks before he can say anything in Parliament about why he won and why the electors of Glasgow are so fed up with Labour. It also means Gordon Brown is spared analysis and hysteria about the result around the tea room tables in the Commons. His MPs are already well dispersed and some no doubt busy with other things.
As one who had thought the polls and pundits would be right in predicting a very narrow Labour victory, it does make a difference that they could not even cling on to their 3rd safest seat in Scotland. The turn out was respectable for a by election â€“ some Labour voters were angry enough to go to the polls and vote for a different party.
Labour in the form of Mr Alexander tells us they â€œwill learn the lessonsâ€. We heard that after Crewe and after Henley as well, in the measured tones of an undertaker addressing the bereaved family.
I doubt that very much. To those who say the problem is Gordon Brown â€“ his appearance, his tone of voice, his approach to people â€“ I say he has changed himself a lot. He can now tie his tie tidily, he sports a much better hair cut, he has bought some new suits, and has adopted a much softer and less aggressive tone of voice. I was pleasantly surprised by the way he responded to my last question to him in the House on Tuesday. Instead of asking him a question as I often do to seek to move the debate on, I asked him a highly political question. I asked if he was intending to persuade Obama he was wrong to both want early withdrawal from Iraq and to want more troops and more commitment to Afghanistan, in contradiction to present US/UK policy. He responded in a measured and thoughtful tone, and answered half the issue I put to him. He has changed a lot and become more Prime Ministerial, accepting peopleâ€™s right to put difficult issues before him. He understood that it would not be good to allow a rift to open up between himself and Obama, but he also has to stay loyal to the current UK/US line.
The problem is not Gordon Brown today. The problem is the mess Blair/Brown made of the economy in the period 2001-2006. The problem is the inflation they have unleashed, and the sharp slowdown they have now generated. That is why I do not think Labour have begun to learn the lessons, because they still cling to the view that the problem is of foreign origin, and that the UK is well placed to deal with it. As readers of this site will know, I concur with neither of those premises.
If they really wish to show they have learned the lessons of Crewe, of Henley and of Glasgow, or for that matter of the last local and mayoral elections, they would take action to alleviate our pain. Just reciting the mantra they â€œunderstand how difficult things areâ€ whilst blaming foreigners at every turn will not do. Jetting off to lecture the Saudis about the price of oil, whilst ignoring the EU over the price of food will not do.
They should take action including the following:
1. Impose a staff freeze on the public sector staff (other than teachers, nurses, doctors, police and troops and other important front line personnel). Stop the flood of spending on computers, consultancies, new logos, spin doctors, and all the other paraphernalia of the quango state. Get public spending under control.
2. Cut fuel duty so oil taxation is back on budget, helping cut inflation.
3. Cut interest rates to 2.5%
4. Reduce taxation on new exploration and development of oil and gas in the UK
5. Cut the Corporation Tax rate to attract more business to the UK
6. Announce decisions on privately financed infrastructure projects in energy, transport and water to offer work to the hard pressed construction industry.
7. Speed CAP reform to allow more agricultural activity in the UK and to give us full access to world markets for food.
If they did this theywould tackle the twin evils of inflation and slow down. They might offer people some hope that their family bills will come under some control, and offer those who fear job losses that the government wants to limit the fall in the economy. I see no signs of them doing much of this anytime soon. I have to conclude they still do not get it, as they mouth their soundbites about a foreign crisis and tell us they share our pain on their six figure Ministerial salaries.