06 February 2010

Both the Tories and Labour are in a fine mess

How Mandelson must have enjoyed his trawl through the papers this week.  Every day the “We know what's best for Dave gang” would throw out their little ideas on what Cameron must do to win the election.  It was a beautifully executed own goal.

The centre piece of all this was Fraser Nelson’s Keith Joseph Memorial Lecture.  The edited highlights were bad enough, where he talks about Heath and Thatcher.  He forgets two small matters.  One, Iain Macleod died, which destabilised Heath's government from the off. Two, Thatcher said little about what she was going to do before she come to power.

Nelson’s thoughts were too much for Daniel Finkelstein, who started off his response by saying:

Fraser Nelson is a very courteous person and an extremely talented journalist who has delivered a spirited and well constructed Keith Joseph lecture.

I hope he doesn't take it amiss when I say that I hardly know where to start when finding things in it with which to disagree.

It didn't stop there.  Back came Nelson with his response.  The details don't matter, but you get the drift.  The Tories are all over the place on policy.

As we have discussed, the Tory strategy is unclear, which leads to mistakes.  Now, we discover there are jitters over the party’s direction amongst their MPs and Cameron’s advisors.

Matthew Parris, in a well argued piece, does his best to put the toothpaste back in the tube.  It is summed up by the sub-heading of his article:

Those calling for a radical Tory manifesto should be careful. Brilliant ideas have a habit of frightening the voters away

Indeed.  Cameron has an election to win.  His job is to sell the Tory brand, not to tell the punters about the bitter pills that will follow.  Thatcher took this point, as Parris says:

Better, I conclude, to give the electorate an honest sense of your essential slant on politics, while leaving the beef to be worked up, and talked through, from the more secure position of incumbency. This is not, as Nelson implied, bad advice from a bad angel. It is the same advice, from the same angel, as Margaret Thatcher heeded in 1978-79, when she was persuaded by quiet Tory voices to agree a manifesto that was gloriously unspecific.

Thatcher had thought through her strategy a year before the election, and because she had, wasn't thrown off course as the ballot papers were being sent to the printers.

We return to Mandelson, who, according to Andrew Grice, was in his element at this weeks Cabinet meeting:

At a political strategy session on Tuesday, Lord Mandelson told the Cabinet that the Tories were now at the point of maximum weakness after Mr Cameron's flip-flop on cuts because they now had no policy on this central issue. He told all ministers to go for the Tory jugular.

His point is obvious, but who is going to do this?  The focus during the campaign will be on Brown, and we all know about Our Dear Leader’s failure as a communicator.  Besides, Mandy is obsessing himself with Osborne, a Westminster village spat that may not go down well on the hustings.

On the one hand, we have the Tories without a strategy, with Cameron saying too much at the wrong time.  On the other hand, we have the Labour party with a leader the comrades are not united behind, who is unlikely to be an effective front man during the election.

It can’t go on like like this.  Unfortunately, it probably will.

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