13 April 2010

Memo to Mandelson: Tuesday 13th April

Dear Peter,

You are no doubt pleased with how the manifesto launch went.  It’s a small matter, but that high tech backdrop didn't come over well on the telly.

First, the good news:

  1. All the time you have spent preparing Gordon for the TV debates is beginning to pay off.  He spoke well, but it was the way he handled the questions that will worry Team Cameron.  Keep at it;
  2. Anthony Wells has noted that “there does seem to have been a slight trend back towards Labour” in the latest polls.  There are hints on ConservativeHome that the Tories will have to revise their strategy if the polls don't move in their favour by the weekend.  As you will be aware this will a risky just two weeks from polling day, which you should be able to benefit from.

To other matters:

  1. Ed Balls is causing further problems.  His behaviour during the manifesto launch was picked up by Tom Bradby.  He than reacted to the way you described the manifesto by saying, “He didn't really say that, did he?”.  Unity is the name of the game at this critical time. Moreover, criticisms from others that are not committed to your strategy will not help with morale within the party;
  2. Why was Ellie Gellard invited to open proceedings at the launch?  This has developed into an unnecessary story that stops Labour getting its message across;
  3. Although Gordon did well, he has to stop taking pot shots at the press, particularly political editors that influence the media narrative;
  4. The above examples demonstrate that the media operation needs to be more tightly controlled than it has been to date; and
  5. You implied the other day while criticising Nick Clegg that you didn't know who ‘Del Boy’ was.  It was the same yesterday with Gene Hunt.  This gives the impression you are rather out of touch with popular culture.   The common touch is important during election campaigns.

Do keep an eye on the Tory manifesto launch today.  George Osborne is likely to pull a rabbit out of the hat.

Best wishes

Events Dear Boy, Events

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  1. Rage Against the Dying of the LightApril 13, 2010 at 11:11 AM

    Memo to David Cameron: Tuesday 13 April

    Dear David

    Given that yesterday saw the launch of the Labour manifesto, it was inevitable that, for the first time really in the campaign, the media narrative would be driven by Labour rather than by you.

    In that context, you must be fairly pleased with how the day panned out, specifically:

    1. There were a number of presentational flaws with the launch of the Labour manifesto, including the use of Ellie Gellard, the retina-destructive background and the heckling of journalists. This has led to a number of tangential stories which distracted slightly from a decent performance by Gordon Brown.

    2. There was nothing game-changing in the manifesto. There was no new policy there that will give Gordon a stick to beat you with during the debates, and very few detailed pledges for Labour activists to use on the doorstep.

    However, the launch did indicate areas where Mandelson and Brown are quietly improving - significant of itself, because neither are usually good at doing things quietly. Most prominently:

    1. Gordon is clearly working hard on coming across publicly as an "ordinary person", capable of jokes and self-deprecation. However, all these instances are in tightly-controlled, stage managed events where he is confident of a good reception. Not enough is being made of the fact that you freely allow dissenting voices into your events - and have taken part in the combative Cameron Direct events for many months - whilst Gordon will only preach to the choir.

    You will know from long experience at PMQs that Gordon can be provoked, and you should make good use of this during the debates. The "pleasant" Gordon is a well-constructed facade, and the reality underneath the cracks is an angry, divisive man. You must cause him show the voters the latter - for whilst the Guardian's April fool line, "step outside posh boy", plays well-ish with Labour enthusiasts, it has little resonance with swing voters.

    2. Expectations of Gordon Brown in the debates are deliberately being lowered to rock bottom. This shows that Labour have learned from their mistakes in the comparatively low-profile Chancellor debates. Then, their actions lowered expectations of Osborne to the point that even his slightly forced and clunky performance could be portrayed by you as a success.

    This is potentially dangerous, since Mandelson will cling tightly onto anything which allows him to claim a victory for Brown, or at the very least to excuse any slip-ups. It would be worth deploying some senior figure not closely connected to the campaign - John Major, or David Davis - to grudgingly praise some of Gordon Brown's strengths as a speaker which are already common knowledge.

    Allow such a figure to highlight, perhaps, his impressive command of statistics; his strongly-held, forcefully-put convictions; his familiarity with the guts of economic arguments; his rough-around-the-edges style: all areas where he will feel he has the edge on you. Then, following the debate, the same figure can gently debunk these by quoting examples from the debate where they became weaknesses.

    You have a lot to lose from the debates, and Brown has a lot to gain. Do not allow him to raise the stakes so high that a score-draw between you becomes a game-changer.

    Nick Clegg is also a factor, but that perhaps is for tomorrow's memo, to co-incide with the launch of the Liberal Democrat manifesto.

    In the meantime, your manifesto has the appropriate gravitas and also the policy pledges to sway voters - don't commit any presentational errors, and the media coverage tomorrow will be very favourable for you.

    Best wishes

    Rage Against the Dying of the Light

  2. Rage Against the Dying of the LightApril 13, 2010 at 11:16 AM

    PS. At every stage, mention that Labour have been in government for 13 years, but are curiously unwilling to talk about, or campaign on, large parts of their record. Other than economic competent, and some aspects of the NHS, Brown and Mandelson are trying to frame this as an election between three parties who are starting from scratch.

    A standard answer should be: "If you are so passionately committed to (x), why did you not put it into action during the 13 years where your party held an overwhelming parliamentary majority?"

  3. So who is Ellie Gellard and how did she get the spokesperson job?

    a) she was chosen at random out of all the Labour activists working hard to get Labour re-elected
    b) she is a standout up and coming Labour star
    c) she is sleeping with somebody high up in the Labour election team

    My vote is on c) but I cant think who it could be.

    Not Brown (Sarah is too involved in the campaign to allow that)

    Not Balls (ditto Mrs. Balls)

    Not Mandelson (obviously)

    - Alistair Cambell?
    - Douglas Alexander?
    - Ed Milliband?
    - Who did I mess?

    I guess we will have to wait until the memoirs (like Major's little fling with Edwina).

  4. Rage Against the Dying of the Light - Good try but Cameron's speech this morning proved beyoond doubt why he will fail as Prime Minister.