abour's mood is upbeat. Thousands of new members have joined (or rejoined) the party since the general election, the party conference was positive and outward looking, a new leader is to set us on course for the fightback. In parliament too, Labour's up for the fight. We've scored some early hits on the government, from Ed Balls steaming in to tear apart plans for academies and their decision to halt the Building Schools for the Future programme, to Caroline Flint's successful spearheading of the campaign to stop plans to introduce anonymity for defendants in rape trials. Despite a bad general election defeat, and thanks to the perfidious LibDems a government with a comfortable majority, Labour is unified, determined and fierce.
We'll need to be. Right from the off, the government has embarked on a programme of wholesale destruction of the fundamentals of the welfare state. The health White Paper, the Academies Act, ending universal child benefit, axing the Future Jobs Fund, the bonfire of the quangos, and wider cuts to welfare and to public services, herald what's to come. Under the convenient figleaf of sorting out the deficit (blamed at every turn on Labour profligacy, with scant recognition of the global financial crisis, or that we spent the last 13 years compensating for years of underinvestment under Tory rule), the government's pursuing a cold, clear-sighted and utterly ruthless programme to deliver a basic Tory ideology: the rollback of the state.
To be truthful, the scale and the speed of the government's onslaught has taken me by surprise. Naively, I'd taken Cameron's de-toxification of the Conservatives at face value. This is no one-nation Tory government. Egged on by what at a casual glance across the Chamber strikes me as a young, homogenous and very hardline backbench intake, Cameron and his frontbench are showing a contempt for the role of public investment and public provision in securing prosperity and protection for all. As for any of us who had thought the Liberal Democrats might limit the worst excesses of Tory government, we've quickly come to see our error, as their front bench's gleeful abandoning of commitments such as no increases to VAT or tuition fees all too clearly shows.
In the face of such an onslaught, Labour can't let up. Nor can we simply retreat to a position of ‘resist and defend'. While the government's programme will bring pain, not just to the poorest but to middle Britain too, the overall effect on voters' attitudes of its most unpopular measures cannot be taken for granted – the story that the deficit can only be reduced by cutting and that it's Labour's fault that we got to this point, is one that's selling well. Cameron's canny – he's getting the pain in early, so by the time of the next election he'll be planning that the economy will be stronger, and some well-judged spending will sugar the pill. Labour must not only bring home the damaging choices that the government's making but build a strong, positive and believable vision for our alternative too.
Returning the party to power at the next election has to be our top priority if we're to prevent what threatens to be terminal damage to our welfare state. To repeat a well-worn phrase – ‘it's the economy stupid' that will determine our chances of victory. We need a bold economic vision built on fairness, with radical policies like the living wage and a commitment to full employment at the heart. The danger is that we're always drawn to the coalition territory, simply fighting cut after cut rather than making the positive case for investment, growth and prosperity for all.
That's not to say we don't fight the cuts, with a broad-based campaign that relentlessly rubs home every local example – the play scheme that's cancelled, the jobs that are lost, the A+E that's closed. Particularly in parliament, our task is larger, to build a vision for the future too. That's got to come from our values, here Ed Miliband's made an encouraging start - from his commitment to the living wage to his outrage at excess pay.
While we must keep up the pressure on the government, it's important that our own policy agenda's developed now. It's vital that's done through a process of the broadest possible involvement of party members – including the PLP. We're strengthened by robust internal debate and discussion, and the leadership must not ignore, avoid or suppress it, whether in parliament or in the party as a whole. Now is the time to develop and articulate the bold and radical policy programme that we stand for, the programme that we fight the next election on, one that ensures that we will win. That's vital for the country's future. Everyone in our party must have a say in that.