And Now Win the Peace

02/05/2003

“And now win the peace” was the Labour Party’s election slogan in the 1945 general election. It neatly encapsulated a number of ideas: that a new government should devote the same energy to rebuilding Britain as it had to winning the war; that there must be no return to the dark days of the depression and that we could create a stable, fair and democratic world. We won by a landslide.

No matter what oneÂ’s views on the conflict in Iraq let me put forward three points that might create a consensus. Firstly, whilst the danger is far from over, thank goodness that all casualties have been far fewer than many predicted. Secondly, every effort must be made to make a new democratic Iraq a success and a welcome member of the international community. And thirdly, once Tony Blair has had chance to pause and reflect, he must devote the same energy and singleness of purpose to creating world class public services here in Britain as he did to resolving the Iraq crisis.

Put simply, Iraq is unlikely now to dominate the agenda in 2005-6 in the way it has done in recent months. As the conflict recedes so domestic issues will re-assert themselves. Ironically, as the conflict has gone relatively well for Tony Blair so it is less likely to be an issue at the next election. Iraq was only likely to be the main issue at the next election if the conflict was both still going on and going badly. Voters, therefore, are much more likely to focus on the issues that usually decide elections: which party will make my family better off? Which party is likely to provide quality education for my children and proper healthcare if we need it? Who do I trust to handle the economy? The question of Britain’s standing on the world stage will be there, but it will be a background issue. At the moment the answer to these questions seems unlikely to be Iain Duncan Smith but that could change, especially if he is replaced by a more credible opposition leader. Tony Blair would do well to look at the case of George W Bush’s father, the first President Bush. He enjoyed massive public support after the 1991 war with Iraq only to lose the following year to Bill Clinton whose slogan was “It’s the economy, stupid!”. In modern Britain read public services as well as the economy.

Which leads us to a problem which is baffling me. I voted in last yearÂ’s budget for massive, indeed record, rises in funding for education. I know that the council tax has gone up by a huge amount, something over 9%. I know that government funding for the local education authority went up by over double the rate of inflation. And yet I know that many local schools are strapped for cash this year. As the education authority blames the government and they in turn blame the education authority, I have a suggestion to make. I think that maybe the government should fund the schools directly, that way we would know quite clearly where the blame (or credit!) would lie. This may sound mundane after the dramas of the last few weeks but the time has come to take to heart the key lesson from new LabourÂ’s first term in office: to deliver world class public services extra money alone is not enough; they need fundamental reform as well.

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