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Time is running out

Brian Taylor | 17:37 UK time, Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Ecstatic applause greeted the opening of Gordon Brown's conference speech as he proclaimed Labour's achievements in office.

It would seem we must add time travel to the list.

Earthbound voters might think the next UK election will involve Labour's search for a fourth consecutive term in power. Not so.

It would, apparently, be "the first Labour Government of the new global age".

This is a novel concept created, of course, by a desire to shed any suggestion that Labour has run out of ideas and ambition.

Mr Brown's argument was that the world had been utterly transformed by the economic crisis.

This merited a renewed effort to curb financial excess while rewarding hard work.

'Focus group-inspired'

Political subtlety and time lapses aside, this was a notably substantive speech: full of policies and rhetoric designed to appeal to middle England/Britain.

Skivers, benefit cheats and city centre drunks? The PM was against them. Pensions?

He'd restore the earning link. Teenage parents? They'd stay in supervised accommodation, losing benefits if they didn't comply.

As one informed observer said, the content was straight out of focus groups, bolstered by an American-style language of fundamental family values.

Given devolution, of course, not all the policies announced apply north of the border. But Mr Brown appeared to base two announcements on Scottish developments.

Firstly, he announced free personal care for those with the highest needs who stay at home.

Secondly, he outlined plans for family intervention projects based on a pilot in Dundee which he has studied.

Tax relief

A further policy could have Scottish implications. The PM said he would reform tax provision for better off parents in order to release money for free childcare for 250,000 two-year-olds.

The cut in tax relief would impact across the whole UK. But it would be up to the Scottish Parliament and Government to decide whether to implement the enhanced childcare.

There would be extra money for Scotland as a consequence of the new investment in England.

On the economy, a new investment corporation, efforts to support business and tax increases "at the very top" - although there's also a hike in National Insurance on the way.

In all, Mr Brown was seeking to contrast his approach with what he characterised as malign, non-interventionist neglect by the Tories.

Again, the calculation is that, if the next UK election is a referendum on recent events, then Labour has had it.

If it can be transformed into a choice between Labour and the Tories - "the change they choose" as Mr Brown put it - then perhaps the outcome may be different.

Either way, in this time zone, the days and weeks are running out.

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