Gordon speaks

I attended Gordon Brown’s speech for the ippr this morning and it was pretty hard not to be impressed.

The Prime Minister’s often accused of being stiff but he spoke passionately about the need to make politics the focus for people’s idealism and about the power of politics to resolve conflict and drive progress. He was at his best in the Q&A afterwards, when pressed to sum up his vision in two sentences he said:

“That every citizen in this country should have the chance to fulfil their potential: to bridge the gap between what they have and what they have it in them to become.”

Hard to argue with that but hard to achieve it too.

There were some pretty meaty announcements though:

  • A referendum on the alternative vote system
  • Select committee chairs to be elected by House of Commons
  • Final abolition of hereditary peers
  • Supporting the case for the Commons to debate pubic petitions
  • A working group to look at a written constitution.

There was also quite a lot on local government, the theme being to give councils more freedom to innovate by replacing central targets with core entitlements for citizens and adopting a joined up Total Place approach to funding.

Most of the comment on this speech is likely to focus on it as an opening salvo in Labour’s election fight back – and that was clearly part of its intent – but I think it also represented an attempt to grapple with some big questions about how power works in this country: who has it and who ought to have it. How it can be dispersed and how it can be given legitimacy.

One might be forgiven for seeing this as a glimpse of what might have been if Brown had moved further and faster. But in conjunction with some of David Cameron’s recent thinking about character and the nature of society it may be an indication that election 2010 could yet be a battle of ideas and not just of personalities.

For those of us who care about democracy that can only be a good thing.