The Guardian was half-right yesterday when it solemnly intoned "The truth is that there is no vision from him, no plan, no argument for the future and no support. The public see it. His party sees it.", but it is not only Brown that this applies to, but the Labour Party itself.
For recent years, Labour has coasted along on an arrogant assumption that they have a monopoly of social concern, that they alone can redistribute our aggregate wealth to the benefit of those who have less than the average. They have also tried to apply this to education, skills, ability, talent and health, oblivious to the reality that unlike income the determinants of ability and merit and personal responsibility cannot be taxed and redistributed. Their failure is manifest.
Above all, Labour just can't abandon the very rock on which the party is built - collectivism on a national scale - at a time when the zeitgeist, like a vast supertanker, is turning away from this course. Trying to fit an awkward sort of centrally-controlled communitarianism into a socialist framework only exposes the bankruptcy of their ideology. For as long as they don't trust people to make the best decisions about their own lives and about their communities - and they never will - they have nothing more to offer. The Labour State still decides in Whitehall that your playground needs a new swing; asking you what colour you'd like is not local democracy.
I have before me a seminal little book entitled 'Renewal - Labour's Britain in the 1980s'. Edited by Gerald Kaufman, it is a collection of pieces by the Labour Shadow Cabinet intended to redefine the party in the face of Thatcherism. Albert Booth, Don Concannon, Brynmor John, Bruce Millan, Stanley Orme, Merlyn Rees, Peter Shore, Eric Varley, John Silkin .... and the rest. It is a confection of central State control; 'radical' reorganisation of State structures, a greater role for the central State in every aspect of our lives. Overblown with pomposity, it declares for example;
We aim to free working people from the economic chains of unemployment, inequality, deprivation and indignity with which the capitalist system binds them. We intend to scrap the anachronism of industrial feudalism that still disfigures Britain. By taking democracy inside the factory gates and through the office doors, we shall establish the basis for social justice.In the end it was none of this fine socialist rhetoric that returned Labour to power in 1997; it was Tony Blair, with his coprophage grin and young children, who put personality before ideology. Absent Blair, you could feel Labour retreating to the comfort zone of their bankrupt ideology. Comrades will read John Smith today with tears of fond nostalgia in their eyes. Gordon Brown finds himself very much at home in the pages of 'Renewal' - indeed, I'm half-convinced he based his last conference speech on it. There's something very 1980s about Gordon.
Whether 2009 will be the blow for Labour that 1922 was for the Liberals remains to be seen. Or maybe Labour will go out not with a bang but with a prolonged whinge. But across the nation electors are asking themselves 'what are Labour for?' and not finding an answer.