The Left

Labour’s troubles

Today’sTelegraph YouGov poll puts the Tories two points ahead of Labour and a quick glance at the figues shows declining trust in the government as a key factor.

Interestingly in the Spectator, Peter Mandelson, one of the architects of the New Labour project, says that the troubles for Blair’s government are exaggerated. “Don’t be taken in by the media’s hyperbole; by comparison with summers past, this government is not having a particularly rough time,” says Mandelson.

Although it is only one poll, the danger is that people are taken in by the media’s hyperbole or at least the claims of ‘sexing up’ documents are sticking. Add in the botched reshuffle and the general feeling of a drift and you do have a serious problem.

I had a conversation last night with a Labour voter who was a supporter of the war on Iraq, thought that action was justified on humanitarian grounds and does not feel particularly concerned by the absence of WMD’s so far in Iraq. But he said he felt cheated by the government’s behaviour over the dossiers etc.

His view was simply – people really don’t like to feel they have been taken for a ride. It is arguable whether they really have been misled of course but the impression has been created that too much is going on behind closed doors. That is almost inevitable when you are dealing with intelligence issues but the government must find away to move the agenda on and I am not sure that attacking the BBC is really the right way to go about it.

This poll will certainly be taken as a warning. The big question is how the government can move out of this situation? The attempt to return to the domestic agenda has been foiled by the constant drip of stories on Iraq and as well as the Campbell issue the situation on the ground in Iraq hardly helps.

It is impossible to turn the mind to public sector reform when our soilders are being killed and select committees are grilling Campbell and others. So Iraq has to be dealt with – head on.

I think it is time that we heard some senior Labour people criticise the US approach to the reconstruction of Iraq – promises are not being kept, the absence of the UN on the ground for largely political reasons related to the Bush administration’s agenda is causing real problems. That is also part of the feeling of being cheated that is widespread.

It is time to put some clear red water between London and Washington on Iraq. Not for opportunist reasons of short-term popularity but because Bush really has made a real hash of the job and British soilders are paying the price. A wider UN role is common sense now and the government shouldn’t be afraid to say so.

Maybe then we can have a summer focused on the domestic agenda crowned with a major conference speech from Blair. And if the Tories are feeling a little boost from this poll that should also be a prompt to begin taking a good close look at their policies and their agenda and exposing it.

The situation is not desperate and the Tories have not become a credible alternative government yet but if this poll sets some alarm bells ringing at the top that might be no bad thing.