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Last Updated: Monday, 3 September 2007, 13:16 GMT 14:16 UK
New politics = old electioneering?
By Nick Assinder
Political correspondent, BBC News website

If it looks like an election campaign and sounds like an election campaign then it is understandable people believe it IS an election campaign.

Gordon Brown
Mr Brown says he wants a new politics
And Gordon Brown's first big speech since the end of the summer break will do nothing to end speculation he is seriously considering an autumn poll.

Indeed, his statement that he wasn't about to call an election "today" probably hasn't helped dampen things down. And it will keep the Tories guessing, which is part of the plot.

Similarly, the latest troop movements in Basra will be seen as helping provide the right background for a possible election, with the prime minister cast as the man who started bringing them home.

Meanwhile David Cameron continues his campaign aimed at fighting back against Mr Brown's poll "bounce" - which has contributed substantially to election talk - with a 1997 New Labour-style pledge to match government spending on public services for the first three years of a Conservative government.

A decade ago, Tony Blair made a similar promise to kill off old Labour's image as the tax and spend party. Mr Cameron has done it to end talk the Tories would slash public services.

So it seems likely election speculation will continue for the time being.

Wider community

But whenever the poll eventually comes - and, despite all the excitement, most still believe it will not be this year at the very least - the prime minister wants to end the disengagement and distrust that have marked the past few polls, seen record low turnouts and even led to questions over the government's mandate.

So Mr Brown's big announcement on citizens' juries and a Speaker's conference, plus his move to bring senior opposition party members into his planning and his talk of no return to Westminster's "business as usual" party politics are all aimed at offering a "new", inclusive and outward-reaching style of politics.

David Cameron
Mr Cameron is fighting back against Brown bounce
Citizens' juries are, spokesmen insist, more than just an extension of the old-style focus groups beloved of every political party, or of Labour's old policy forums.

They will genuinely engage representatives of the wider community and aim to directly feed into the government's policy programme, it is claimed.

Similarly, talk of cross-party consensus is genuine and the prime minister's success in bringing opposition MPs and non-politicians into his big tent is, supporters say, clear evidence of that.

But, as is always the case with Gordon Brown, his announcements are also being seen as strategic and, far from representing a new politics, are good old-fashioned party politics designed to wrong foot the opposition.

Core vote

Sceptics are already arguing that this new Labour "project" has much the same aim as the old one - to marginalise the opposition parties by forcing them off the ever-expanding centre ground.

For example, no sooner had Mr Cameron talked of tackling violence in video and computer games and on the internet, than the prime minister announces a citizens' jury that will look at just that, amongst other issues relating to street crime and what the Tories are branding "the broken society".

Also, bringing Tory and Liberal Democrat MPs into his groups looking at security, rural planning and children with learning difficulties will be seen by some as a genuine bid to win a sensible, cross-party consensus. Others will view it as a way of neutralising any future opposition criticism in those areas.

And, of course, it all contributes to Mr Brown's aim of painting Labour as the party with the new, radical ideas and the Tories as retreating back to the old, core vote policies of the past.

In other words, much of all this will be seen exactly as "business as usual" and, quite possibly, campaigning as usual.

Brown plays down early election
03 Sep 07 |  UK Politics
Tories 'to match Labour spending'
03 Sep 07 |  UK Politics
UK Basra base exit 'not a defeat'
03 Sep 07 |  Middle East

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