Most political crises come and go in a short period, which is why it is more important than ever for the opposition to focus on the big issues if they are to regain power, writes David Blunkett
Chaos, confusion, out of touch toffs! All of these and much worse have been judgements cast on the coalition over the past few weeks. But does it really add up to a hill of beans?
This may seem a very odd question from an opposition MP, and one who calls a spade a spade to boot. It is, however, not just for those steeped in politics but for all with a passing interest in a really important question: whether the current disasters that have befallen the government, not least since the budget, have a lasting impact.
Of course, people will remember the gaffe by Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude over the jerry can and the fear it caused of a fuel shortage.
Incompetence and lack of direction are body blows to any government but long-term damage comes from events which do not fade in the memory
And those involved with national charities and those giving to charity will clearly reflect in the months to come on the row about capping tax relief.
For a short time, those biting into hot pasties will rue the day that VAT was finally levied, as they fork out the extra 20%. And, more significantly, recent events arising from the Leveson inquiry will give people pause for thought on relationships between politicians and the press.
And yes, perhaps even for a couple of years those in retirement who do not have their additional tax allowance increased as everyone else on the standard rate of income tax has their starting rate lifted, will grumble about how unfair it is.
But what all these incidents have in common (together with other less prominent misfires) is their transient nature. They are by definition ephemeral.
Only if they are accompanied by continuing internal conflict within the coalition and confusion over direction that the last two or three months will have a lasting impact. Incompetence and lack of direction are body blows to any government, but long-term damage comes from events which do not easily fade in the memory.
Cash for access is, for instance, a case in point. Not least because all three major parties need to sort out before the general election where we’re going on the rules surrounding fundraising, in particular of substantial giving to political parties.
So does the issue of fairness. This came up after the Budget when the top rate of income tax was cut and also in the little debated reduction in tax credits and the way in which changes to housing benefit, tax credit and the new universal credit will hit those in work (the thrifty) as well as those who either cannot or will not work. And of course the tragic news that Britain has entered a recession as the first quarter of this year showed negative growth of 0.2%. Which, makes all of this feel like a sacrifice that has gone unrewarded.
This issue of equity in the pain of austerity touches the heart of the way people feel. If it isn’t felt to be fair, people resent even the most rational changes.
Labour needs to counterweight the power of financial institutions and therefore the market while fostering innovation
Coupled with the “toff” and “chums” jibe, and with it the inference that you are not on our side and do not understand our pain and you have a very different cocktail.
However, a word of warning for those of us in opposition. There are three years to go. In the end, in the famous phrase picked up by President Bill Clinton, it will be “the economy, stupid” which will make all the difference in changing minds and therefore votes.
It is therefore beholden on Labour to get its act together. Not just to score goals and to have moments of pyrrhic victories, but to have a clear direction, a narrative as to what the alternative is for this country and above all how to counterweight the power of international financial institutions and therefore the market, while fostering enterprise and innovation.
This country was built on creativity, hard work, basic enterprise and social justice. Any opposition that hopes to win needs to harness those key elements.
As I write, final campaigning is taking place in the run-up to the mayoral and local elections across Britain. Even quirky outcomes can have an impact on public perception and immediately change the environment in which the coalition government find itself.
That is why the opposition has to have its eyes on 2015, its ear to the current concerns of the electorate and its mind on developing coherent, well thought through policies which have a resonance with both voters and business alike. Now there is a challenge.
David Blunkett is MP for Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough, and a former home secretary