More labour in Britain

For Labour, the most daunting task is to deliver on its promises... As for the Tories, they need to get a new wardrobe. HASAN SUROOR on the post-poll scene in Britain.

NOW THAT the predictable has happened with Labour back in office after a record-breaking performance in elections and the Tories in disarray, what's next? The first week after the general election in Britain has been eventful both for Labour and the Tories - one trying to strike the right note in the face of awesome expectations from it in its second term in office, and the other struggling for political survival following a second debacle in four years.

The Tories, who should have been engaged in a post-mortem and ``quiet reflection'', as a senior leader suggested, are instead caught up in a bitter leadership struggle following Mr. William Hague's resignation within hours of the party's defeat. That a man who - to quote the charismatic Tory veteran, Mr. Michael Heseltine - could not distinguish between a ``bandwagon and hearse'' should have gone is entirely appropriate but will his departure make a difference? By all accounts, what the party needs is a brutal shake-up, and a radical conceptual shift to make itself compatible with the demands of an increasingly complex and culturally diverse Britain. Is it capable of re- inventing itself?

For Labour, the most daunting task is to deliver on its promises, most of which are a hangover from the first term. The Blair Government is widely seen to have frittered away the first term as public services deteriorated, crime rose and the more vulnerable sections such as pensioners felt cheated. During the election campaign, the Prime Minister, Mr. Tony Blair, got an earful from voters who, in the end, still voted Labour simply because it was the lesser of the evils. The Tories were clearly unelectable, and the Liberal Democrats too raw for comfort.

Mr. Blair admits that his Government could not do as much in the first term as it should have, but says it was saddled with a crippling Tory legacy which needed to be got out of the way first. Having cleared the cobwebs left behind by the Tories, and laid the ``foundations'' of a strong economy, Labour it is now ready to come good on its promises, Mr. Blair told voters. His campaign theme was: give me another term, and see the difference.

Now that he has got what he wanted, expectations are high - and he is conscious of it. In his very first public statement, Mr. Blair said the mandate was an ``instruction to deliver'' and the composition of his new Government is seen to suggest that he does mean business. In what has been described as the most savage reshuffle since Harold Macmillan's famous ``night of the long knives'' when he sacked one-third of his Cabinet, Mr. Blair has brought in people perceived by observers as ``doers''. It has been called a ``Blairite Cabinet in his own image'', reflecting his new authority.

The inclusion of a record number of women in key departments is a response to the charge that he ran an old boys' network. By shifting Mr. Robin Cook out of the Foreign Office and bringing a euro-sceptic Mr. Jack Straw in his place, Mr. Blair has sent out a signal that on Europe he is working to a plan. To reinforce the image of a Government determined to make up for lost time, he has set up a ``delivery'' unit presided over by the Deputy Prime Minister, Mr. John Prescott. But, as The Times warned, the presence of a fresh and ``intelligent set of faces does not by itself mean that policy will be more imaginative or better implemented''. The important thing, it said, was to press ahead with his ``domestic agenda more vigorously''. The Guardian called for ``less nonsense and more honesty'' saying that Labour must trust the voters more than in the past.

Meanwhile, the Tories are passing through yet another bruising phase - a result of pursuing an agenda which, according to Mr. Heseltine, is completely out of tune with modern Britain. The Tory campaign, it is widely acknowledged even within the party, was divorced from real issues. While Mr. Hague and his team harped on Europe, asylum and taxes, people wanted to hear about bread-and-butter problems - education, health and transport. It was seen as a party of xenophobes caught up in a time warp, and sorely out of touch with the changed social attitudes.

``The real problems which confront the Conservatives now are that they have few detailed policies on the public services and are perceived as both abnormal and out of touch by most of the population,'' The Times said pointing out that it needed to revamp its style, philosophy and policies. The message repeatedly hammered in this past week is that the party needs to broadbase its appeal by taking a more relaxed view of new social and cultural attitudes, particularly on issues such as single parenthood, homosexuality and multiculturalism.

The leadership battle has thrown up deep divisions between the hard Europhobic right-wing Tories represented by the Shadow Home Secretary, Ms. Ann Widdecombe, and the Left identified with the Shadow Chancellor, Mr. Michael Portillo, the former Chancellor, Mr. Kenneth Clarke, and Mr. Heseline, among others. So far, only Mr. Portillo has formally announced his candidature while Ms. Widdecombe, Mr. Clarke and Mr. Ian Duncan Smith, a Thatcher protige, are weighing their options. In the end, however, a mere leadership change will make little difference and whether the party becomes electable again will depend on whether it is willing to make a radical break with the past. It needs to get itself a spanking new wardrobe now that New Labour has stolen its clothes so brilliantly.