John Woodcock: Labour looks for middle ground

The Government's in-tray feels very retro this week: it is back to the 1980s, with slightly fewer dodgy perms.

John Woodcock: Labour looks for middle ground
John Woodcock: Labour looks for middle ground

The TUC threatening Conservative ministers with waves of co-ordinated strikes; Eurosceptic backbenchers muttering ominously about betrayal and rebellion on Europe; schools and hospitals feeling the squeeze; and a Tory Chancellor holding out against changing economic course despite a growing chorus of domestic and international warning voices.

We should not be surprised to wake up to the Today programme interviewing Alan B'Stard, Rik Mayall's sleazy minister from the Thatcher days.

David Cameron's decision to rebrand himself as a 'common sense Conservative' as Prime Minister shows how far he has moved from Dave the bicycling, husky-loving, hoodie-hugging, modernising 'heir to Blair' that his comms team conjured up while in opposition.

It is easy to forget that only a year ago his decision to bring the Liberal Democrats into coalition was seen as definitive proof that he was a new breed of statesman.

Back then, Lib Dems were like chic metrosexual scarves around which fashionable Cameroons could drape themselves. But as Tory right-wingers and Lib Dem malcontents have got increasingly vocal, both sides have defaulted to using the other as props against which to define themselves. It turns out the mould was not broken at all; it had just been shoved under the bed during the honeymoon. But people on my side of the argument need to remember one thing: the right-wing Tories may have been despised in the 1980s, but they beat the traditional left-leaning Labour several times over.

So as conference season is about to start, expect to hear more on Ed Milband's key themes of the squeeze on living standards for the middle, people's worries for the next generation, and the need for responsibility in the benefits system and the boardroom alike.

Under his leadership, Labour is determined to plant a flag on the centre ground of British politics, the only place from which progressive politicians can hope to secure lasting change.

John Woodcock is Labour MP for Barrow and Furness, and a former spokesman for ex-prime minister Gordon Brown.

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