The verdict from history: bring back Gordon Brown

The lovely phrase “spray on evidence” was coined in the late 1990s in frustration at the attitude towards evidence shown by many in the Labour government. Though officially the government was determinedly set on a course of evidence-based policy, many of those involved in policy making felt that evidence was being applied as a bit of glitter to justify policies rather than really shaping them.

Spray on history now seems to be the order of the day in much political punditry with the futures of the coalition, Liberal Democrats and Labour often talked about with several nods towards the past. A powerful example of this is the use of recent political history to justify views about what Labour should do next. It usually takes the form of, ‘Well look how the Tories got it all wrong after 1997. If Labour want to win again they can’t just sink into their comfort zone. They’ll only win again once they return to the centre ground’.

As far as it goes, that’s a compelling argument. But only as far as it goes. Because if you move beyond the spay on history and look more consistently at the past, it tells a rather different story.

Gordon BrownLabour governments have previously been voted out of office at four general elections: in 1924, 1951, 1970 and in 1979. On two occasions (1929 and February 1974) Labour went on to return to power at the next election. On the other two occasions Labour went on to lose two or three further general elections.

What do the two immediate returns to power have in common? Labour kept its defeated leader and didn’t change much in the way of policy or approach. What did the other two have in common? Labour went in for a long-period of soul-searching and made major shifts in policy.

So there you have it. The verdict from history: bring back Gordon Brown and his policies.

Or rather the verdict from history is: beware those who cull one convenient example and pass it off as history’s lesson.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • G*d help us all… 😉

  • Or rather bring back Tony Blair after all he was the leader when Labour were elected to be government even if all 3 times they had less than a 1/3rd of the electorate support and for 2 of them had less 1/4 support from electorate.

  • Surely you mean ‘spray-on evidence’… ‘spay on evidence’ sounds like something rather different altogether. 🙂

  • What do the two immediate returns to power have in common? Labour kept its defeated leader and didn’t change much in the way of policy or approach.

    The Labour Party cannot return to its roots, without changing from what it currently is. In particular, it cannot return to its roots without changing from what it was when it last won an election.

  • Patrick Smith 2nd Sep '10 - 7:40pm

    Those who saw the Blair Interview with Andrew Marr, who gave him a rather soft ride,although probed him with some intelligent questions.But I heard TB say that `Labour failed on May 5th because they moved more than one milimetre from New Labour under Gordon Brown’.

    It was also quizzical that TB said he preferred not to criticise the PM as he knew how difficult it was to do the job.

    The Liberal Government 1906-16 brought about real social change in laying the foundation of the welfare state and introducing Old Age Pensions and radical constitutional reform with the Parliament Act.Liberal Governments elected 3 times…

    Mr Blair`s legacy is that he won 3 Elections and that to his credit worked hard to establish the `Good Friday Agreement’. However,the voters now know that TB has a reputed post PM fortune of £160 m.

    Will Labour,supposedly there to defend the poorest members of the community, seek to put in another Leader cloned with Blair`s ambition?

    However, he Blair has Iraq as the bitterest and most divisive `decision’ on his hands and will history show it was based on `spray on evidence’?

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