ELECTION 2001: LIVE ISSUE - Policies that are set to place Labour's Left on centre stage. New Labour's Left wing no longer needs to keep a low profile

Labour's election victory, despite its record-breaking achievement,

had an old-fashioned feel to it. The post-match Millbank celebration was

deliberately neither glitzy nor triumphalist, and the accompanying

acceptance quotes restrained.



There was a well-planned absence of public gloating over the twitching

carcass of the Tories and this was calculated to give the party a Sven

Goran-Eriksson-like aura of restraint. Success without the swelling

head. Even John Prescott's punch was stand-up comedy of the most

traditional kind, showing not that Labour couldn't handle ordinary

people when placed in close proximity with them, but that they had at

least one senior politician who reassuringly stayed flesh when his

colleagues had docked their personalities on planet PR for the duration

of the campaign.



The election advertising on both sides also seemed retro, with neither

side departing too obviously from the golden rule of keeping it

simple.



Advertising during an election campaign is obviously where a

back-to-basics approach really does work.



So, what's in store for the advertising business under this new,

restrained Labour government? What's certain is that we shouldn't take

the sober style of Tony Blair's re-election party as evidence that

things will continue as before.



Four years ago there seemed little need for serious concern about the

new government. Nigel Griffiths, who had spent longer than anyone else

in the shadow post and was a certain for the ministerial post at the

Department of Trade and Industry and the Department for Culture, Media

and Sport, was still in pre-turf war mode. The Gov- ernment as a whole

still needed to reassure its new voters who could very quickly have

concluded their support had been obtained under false pretences of

middle England sensitivity.



Gordon Brown's two-year Tory economic policy of course helped here, but

so did a notable restraint in extending government influence into areas

such as consumer affairs.



All this is set to change as of last Thursday. No longer is there any

real need for the Government to pretend to be Tories, at least after a

second honeymoon of a few more months. While the commanding heights of

New Labour policy (the economy, law and order, foreign policy, defence

and home affairs) will remain in such a form as to afford reassurance to

the British public and its long- standing concerns about the perils of

radicalism, there is now a real possibility that the Labour Left's long

wait is nearly over. Admittedly the Left is seriously depleted in

today's Labour Party, but there are nevertheless some long-standing

political dues to be paid from the huge popular credit now standing in

Labour's account.



Some policy areas are regarded as less central than others to Blair -

and these are consequently the areas most likely to be handed over to

the control of the Left wing. Consumer protection (including policy on

advertising and self-regulation) is one of these.



In the last Parliament, the Government displayed wilful antagonism

towards the tobacco manufacturers yet did not pursue its agenda too

strenuously, remaining sensitive to the charge of playing the nanny and

the votes that this might cost. It no longer needs to worry so much on

this score and it now may feel that it needs to give real

responsibilities to the remains of the Left caucus within the party,

although such an ascription need not be implemented straight away. This

could mean that by the time of the next election, the consumer affairs

division of a revamped DTI, and culture, media and, for that matter,

sport, will have become the property of the Left, while the really

important offices of state have stayed reassuringly New Labour.



There are other factors that make advertising and consumer affairs a

prime candidate for a sop to the Left wing. As far as Labour is

concerned, consumer affairs have never been particularly well defined in

ideological terms. Generally, policies in this area are seen as a "good

thing", satisfying the increasingly prevalent popular cry of "there

ought to be a law against it". Policies to protect consumers from

everything from contracts to commercial communications, product

liability and passive smoking have always been high on the wishlist of

all those politicians and regulators seeking ways to land small

"people-friendly" successes.



Blair's New Labour consensus will certainly be tested severely following

its second honeymoon, which will last until October this year, after the

party conference. In the aftermath of the 2001 massacre, however, that

challenge is less likely to come from the Tories and more likely to

emerge from the almost-forgotten Left, which no longer needs to lie low,

stay on message, or even behave. That freedom, the presumed

expendability of consumer affairs in New Labour's eyes and the

strengthened presence of the yet more radical Liberal Democrats in the

Commons means that, as far as advertising is concerned, anything could

now happen when the political action really starts this autumn.



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