Divided parties often get elected. Economically incompetent governments lose elections.

Spare us the lectures to be united at a time of national crisis, Prime Minister. Weak leaders make speeches about loyalty, and the need for discipline. Strong leaders listen to intelligent criticism or ideas about better ways of handling problems. Strong leaders unite enough followers by doing and saying the right things about the issues.Weak leaders create division by boring everyone with platitudes and silly spin.

We are still prisoners of Labour spin. It is amazing just how long a shelf life Nu Labour’s simple minded misconstruction of 1990s politics has enjoyed.

In the 1990s the Nu Labs told the media that a divided party could not govern, and was not electable. They told us the Major government would fall because it was divided.

They also told us an anti EU party could not be elected, and said the Tories problems came from being divided over the EU and for being too anti the EU.

Both these soundbites were wrong.

The Thatcher government was deeply divided, between wets and dries. Their arguments regularly appeared in the press, but it did not stop them winning 3 elections in a row. There were regular threats to Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, with Michael Heseltine wanting the job. The Thatcher governments wrestled with the big issues of the day – Trade Union power, poorly performing nationalised industries, high unemployment – and found contentious but lasting solutions.

The Blair government was deeply divided at the top. The press was full of stories of rows and splits between Blair and Brown, but it did not stop them winning 3 elections in a row. There were pressures for a leadership change, with Brown seeking promotion.

Governing parties are usually divided, and some healthy debate about the way ahead can be helpful, as long as the Leader communicates a strong sense of direction at the same time as allowing the public debates about it.

The polling throughout the Conservative years showed that Euroscepticism was always more popular than Euroenthusiasm. Indeed, at the nadir of Conservative polling fortunes it was only our Euroscepticism that was popular. Under William Hague we won the European election where we were able to express our scepticism.

The Conservative government fell for one main reason – it adopted the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on the advice of the other two parties and the CBI, and it proved to be a very damaging economic policy. In that sense it was Europe that destroyed the Conservative party in the 1990s – because it was too European, not because it was too sceptical.

If the Labour government falls, it will fall for one main reason – the poor economic policy it has followed, and the way it has made the Credit Crunch worse in the UK.
Its enthusiasm for all EU bureaucracy is a further irritant. Far from helping an unpopular government, its love of the Lisbon treaty and its refusal to honour its promise of a referendum has made it worse.

I am fed up with all the interviewers challenging Labour rebels with the nonsense that they are making the problem worse by daring to want a debate and a change of leadership. They are not the problem. The problem is the government and its policies. The interviewers should start asking the rebels instead, what they would do to make things better., That’s what the public wants to know.

The depressing thing about the Labour rebels is not that they are showing some life at a time when the government is performing badly, but that they are not yet offering an alternative strategy that makes sense and might ameliorate the economic crisis.

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15 Comments

  1. tim holden
    Posted September 17, 2008 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    The man who sold the gold and expanded the state sector is not the one to deal with the current difficulties. He lacks fame for decisiveness, and his forecasting has been somewhat wanting in accuracy. Thus we can easily indict the Leader – and someone needs to say to him "Prime Minister, this is not a Relaunch. It is a Revolution."

    But the grim truth about Labour is that they simply haven't got anyone else who can do better. Brown is the best they have, it is true. They remain unapologetic, through a third-rate lack of awareness, about the poverty of their personnel as the tumbrils roll up to the gates of the Bastille.

  2. not an economist
    Posted September 17, 2008 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    "The Conservative government fell for one main reason – it adopted the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on the advice of the other two parties and the CBI"

    While I agree that these two elements were very vocal in their support it seems to me that there were prominent members of the Cons Party that were also very keen on membership: Ken Clarke & Major to name but two. Surely these two were not led by the nose by Labouir and the CBI as you seem to imply. They have always strucken me as independently minded.

  3. Nicholas
    Posted September 17, 2008 at 9:31 am | Permalink

    I have always believed that dissent and debate in cabinet is healthy for democracy, provided that it is open debate and not plotting. The single party unity being rigorously enforced these days is very bad for democracy, as we have seen in recent parliamentary voting where legislation has been passed by party political ramrod against an apparent general consensus.

    The mass media exaggeration of disunity within parties, depicting it always as a stumbling block to good government, has pressured leaders to depend more on spin – PR – than honesty. That is bad for democracy too.

    The final nail in the coffin for healthy debate has been the encroachment of Political Correctness, which all opposition parties have succumbed to. This constraint does not apply to the government as being of the party most responsible for the advance of PC in Britain they ruthlessly exploit it to serve their purpose.

  4. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted September 17, 2008 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    What are the Conservative Party's solutions to ameliorate the economic crisis? Apart from reading your blog and YOUR ideas there is a deafening silence from those at the top of your party. Are they waiting until your conference to reveal their strategy? Those of us who can’t wait to see the back of Brown and Labour would like to know that we are not jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.

    • Thatcher-right
      Posted September 17, 2008 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

      Of course there is "deafening silence from those at the top of your party". The New Liebour tactics have consisted largely of misinterpreting the statements of the conservatives and then attacking the misinterpretations whilst maintaining a steady stream of pious platitudes.

      The tactics have worked.

      Now that the government finds itself in a hole (which I consider to be largely of it's own making) it seems unreasonable to expect the Tories to gove them anything to help them out.

      I presume that the tactics are going to be: keep quiet until the election is announced and, even then, only give vague commitments about the principles for governing rather than detailed strategy: "We can't make explicit promises until we see how bad the books really are".

  5. Acorn
    Posted September 17, 2008 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    I blame the voters, they get the government they deserve. As the voters dumb down, so do the people they elect to govern them. He/she will be presented with a candidate by a political club, whom the voter will know little about and care even less.

    They may recognise the colour of the rosette as being associated with one of those political clubs. The younger ones are likely to know more about the candidates for "strictly come dancing" and the "X-factor", than the candidate for MP.

    To them, government is something that happens somewhere else; they have little control of it; don't know how it will affect them but; will be most upset if their video recorder has a party political broadcast on it instead of Eastenders.

    I wouldn't be surprised if someone said on the doorstep, "which party is "Obama" in! Can't wait for the next series of "Strictly Celebrity Big Brother Government"

    • mikestallard
      Posted September 18, 2008 at 7:28 pm | Permalink

      If you had just come back on the top deck of a country bus with a shedload of Comprehensive School "children" swearing, fighting and being as disgusting as they could, you might realise, as I have reluctantly done, that pandering to the "young" is a mug's game.

  6. Tony Makara
    Posted September 17, 2008 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I certainly agree that the Labour rebels have no alternate plan for government but by the same token the Conservative party has yet to show how it is going to deal with key areas such as job creation. I would like to see aggressive tax relief for business to get our economy moving again and an even more favourable tax regime for those who supply the domestic market. Unemployment has to be tackled once and for all and I should like to see the re-introduction of the community programme schemes introduced under the Thatcher government in which the long term unemployed were guaranteed twelved months of fully waged work on state projects. However the programmes should involve a training component, leading to a recognized certification, and should be compulsory, replacing benefit after a given period.

    Workfare is only a punitive measure and will not put people back to work, whereas fully waged training programmes will not only provide the skills needed but will also create a structured work environment. Some Conservatives may baulk at the idea of a public works programme but it is the only way to provide the training needed to re-skill the long term jobless and the only way the state will see a return for its money as the unemployed can provide a fantastic reserve of manpower. However any work undertaken must be fully waged, we don't want to see a situation in which the jobless are exploited for free labour as has occured under the Labour government with the long term unemployed undertaking 13-26 week 'job-training' while stocking shelves for 30 hours a week in supermarkets that donate to the Labour party.

    The next Conservative government needs to be entirely focused on the question of unemployment which may well be over two million by 2010. A strategy for job creation and real job training must be in place. Don't look to people like David Freud to solve the problem because, Mr Freud, like many others only sees the numbers and not the people. What is needed are real-life solutions, a real strategy that creates work and creates the training leading to work.

    Reply: My whole Economic Policy Report was about generating more decent jobs.

    • mikestallard
      Posted September 18, 2008 at 7:32 pm | Permalink

      I was on the dole in the 1990s and the Conservative programme was very helpful. We got trained in the very new computers, in starting and managing our own business and also in salesmanship.
      The trainers were all people whose businesses had failed! and they were super!
      Just being trained was good. When you had been on the rock'n'roll for six months, you were allowed into the special "Club" for three months. there were free papers, a secretary or two and a free telephone. In charge was a man who gave you jolly helpful advice.
      A very good experience all round, I thought.

  7. Julian White
    Posted September 18, 2008 at 12:01 am | Permalink

    Economically incompetent governments do lose elections. As mentioned elsewhere, Major's government was entirely competent in terms of its economic policy.

    This European issue keeps cropping up. Major's Conservatives were pro-European, and absolutely right too. Major thought the best of Britain and knew we could compete. Major saw Britain in the heart of Europe, not at the side of it.

    Major received advice from some to rule out membership of a single currency. Such advice was absolute madness. There was nothing for Britain to lose by continuing negotiations, that's what any sensible business would do in a comparable set of circumstances. That's what Major did, that's what some Conservatives told him not to do, they split the party, then Blair comes in and follows Major's European policy on the Euro.

    The reason parties stay together and united is usually because the majority in the party think that they will win the election, and so there is no need for disunity or need to fill a vacuum. Margaret Thatcher actually led a u-turning Government, but with the weak opposition, she never faced a threat in the 1980s, and so unity ensured that like Blair, her position wasn't questioned for some time (and long after she should have gone).

    Major's Conservative Party was in permanent turbulence, despite economic competence, with even some Cabinet Ministers accepting posts in the Cabinet, but then briefing against the Government.

    The position for Labour is that they need a competent leader. They don't have one, and so there can't be unity, and there will clearly not be economic competence given the u-turns and lack of direction that Gordon Brown is showing.

    Labour rebel MPs now do not need to suggest alternative policies, they need to decide who should lead them, and let policies evolve from there. Indeed, there is precedent in 1995 that an MP left the Cabinet and stood against John Major with the most remarkable tabloid policies which were entirely unworkable, so if it's good enough for a candidate to get away with that, it is hard to see why rebel Labour MPs should present an alternative vision.

    Reply: MY two main proposals in 1995 were to keep the pound – a policy that I am pleased to say has been taken up by both main parties – and to lower wasteful spending and taxes, which should have been.

    • Julian White
      Posted September 18, 2008 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

      Major would have kept the pound, but there was no point removing ourselves from the negotiations. Every Conservative leader in the last generation has believed in cutting wasteful spending and cutting taxes. But did Mr Major not have a Welsh Secretary who resigned in 1995 who had actually increased spending in their department?

      The point is that cutting spending is not easy. In my view, it's time for the Government to significantly cut the number of councils to reduce duplicate spending, and to review just how much money is being wasted across the education budget and health service budget, as well as the other areas of Government spending.

      The whole ethos of spending still needs to be changed, when John Moore managed to make cost savings and came in under budget in the 1980s, that was almost viewed as a failure. Too many departments and even smaller units like hospitals desperately try to spend their budgets in the knowledge that if they don't, then their funding may be continually reduced.

      Reply: I cut out wasteful spending and sent the money back to the Treasury to help relieve taxpayers.

  8. Eddie Allen
    Posted September 18, 2008 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    It’s all hot air and hogwash !

    The BBC has a report today of Alan Milburn saying; Labour must once again offer a message of change to win back voters, former health secretary Alan Milburn has said.
    The willingness to change is what made New Labour so dominant, he wrote in a pamphlet for think tank Progress.
    “Now change beckons once again,” he said. Commentators say the article contains implicit criticism of the PM.
    Meanwhile, a number of senior party figures have said Labour needs to “get off the back foot” and “rediscover the passion” that helped it into power.

    Yesterday LibDem leader Nick Clegg said “Labour is finished” and made his case for tax cuts, less government, less infringement on our civil liberties, better democracy with reform of the system ( I gather this is a recall for proportional representation ), and more “social justice”. Although his speech was quite rousing of the spirit, it was just another round of soundbites. You can’t argue it wasn’t truly what’s required despite some of what he said may be somewhat difficult to deliver. He also referred to the Conservative Party rather idiotically in my opinion, as “Blue Labour”. Tadda! Yet more griping from the opposition instead of knuckling down to the question !

    So what we have are the LibDems with some idea that government has to engage with people its supposed to represent and on the surface this sounds good. However I didn’t hear him say anything about the UK’s membership of the European Union which rather makes what he says about government connecting with people seem a lot of hot air as people and their parliament cannot simply override its laws and soldier about independently, their policy is one of total acceptance, and the LibDem’s acceptance of the Lisbon Treaty will undoubtedly change Clegg’s message from hot air into hogwash in a very short time once full competency is taken by the European Commission over our laws and results in less democracy, less say, less parliamentary powers and no veto.

    As for Milburn, he’s an ex Blair Minister and still singing the same old song of “change” but without any substance.

    Change to what I ask ?
    Again, he’s another one talking hot air and hogwash if he thinks Labour can recover itself with soundbites and Blairite catchphrases !

    Both these parties are missing a vital ingredient here when leaving out the question of our member status of the European Union.

    Yes, of course the economy is important to people, jobs, interest rates, civil liberty, crime rates, the NHS, trimming government, electoral reform, and of course MP’s expenses and last but not least competence of government.
    Many would also add immigration to that list but the one plain area on everyone’s lips is our member status of Europe and neither LibDems or Labour are hitting this button at all and with polls riding on a constant high for Conservative support ( 52% in one poll today ), it’s not that difficult to see why.

    The Conservative Party has called for change repeatedly these last 10 years and last year they brought out a raft of “Change Required” initiatives which were based on 2 years worth of long hard study. Ian Duncan Smith deserves a medal !

    Undoubtedly change is required yet the Tories are the only real electable party with the question of Europe on its lips.

    It knows it can only carry out true reform if the Lisbon Treaty doesn’t become law and they keep the veto which allows them the sovereign ability to put right the many foolish things Labour has agreed in Europe. Thus Europe is the place to start when looking at our civil liberties, our democracy, our engagement with parliament, our taxes, our laws, our monetary system, employment rights and social contracts, our local government, the mass of red tape, and the means to actually turn soundbites into reality.

    The European question is quite easy to answer here too.
    Either you want to be a federal state of a European Superstate or you don’t.
    It’s quite simple really I think.
    Either you want to vote Labour or LibDem’s or you don’t.

    For me, I don’t want to be a federal state of Europe, I want the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to work with Europe but not to be controlled by Europe, and I don’t really feel inclined to argue about it with a bunch of people who never bothered and patently don’t want to ask me.

    However, the Conservative Party and David Cameron in particular still has some convincing to do on this in relation to what his policies are precisely, lest he will fall into soundbite mode. At this stage I’m pretty clear that we’d be voting in a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty but I’d be just as happy if they scrapped it without asking me. Saying ‘We’ll scrap the Lisbon Treaty’ in a General Election would suffice, and anything more than that I think I’d be asking too much if I want my party to actually gain government without dividing itself and the country down the middle.

    I’m happy then to leave Europe in safe Conservative hands and I’m inclined to believe they’ll do the right thing for me because I have faith in them, whereas I have no faith in LibDem’s and Labour’s hot air and hogwash.

    I wait with baited breath for Mr Cameron’s speech at the Conservative Party conference and I doubt he’ll be using a strategically placed 5 foot wide screen autocue like Nick Clegg did.

    As for Labour ?
    They must be sick as parrots but I can guarantee they’re not half as sick as they’ve made us !

    • mikestallard
      Posted September 21, 2008 at 6:42 pm | Permalink

      Everyone knows that the EU is not working and that nobody really wants it.
      The problem is why is it still advancing so very fast?
      1. Several of the people in it are making megabucks i (words left out-ed) in their wages. They will keep their snouts in the trough as long as they can.
      2. Out of date people assume (wrongly) that it is bringing peace and prosperity to ex colonial Europe.
      3. It must be jolly nice to be PM with the EU in place. Loads of free dinners with your mates – the other plenipotentiaries. A feeling of being v. popular with them and thus v. successful.
      4. Also, of course, being able to choose nonentities as your cabinet. They just get told what to do by Brussels and then you agree with them. Keep them on a pager or blackberry and forbid them talking to the Press otherwise and, bingo!, you are in total control. If there is any trouble, you just waffle a bit on your Broadcasting Channel or let the papers blame the EU. Apparently, Mr Brown's Security Team is excellent and he knows a lot about his potential rebels…….

  9. Eddie Allen
    Posted September 18, 2008 at 1:09 pm | Permalink

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7622504.st

    Former deputy Labour leader John Prescott has said the party should get behind Gordon Brown – warning that "disunity kills" political parties.

    Mr Prescott told the BBC people were worried about their jobs and quality of life – and all they heard from Labour were questions about the leadership.

    He said that Gordon Brown was "the best man for that job" at a time of global crisis, adding "get behind your man".
    _______________________________________

    "Get behind your man" eh ?

    He sounds like Tammy Wynette ! lolololol
    http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=DwBirf4BWew

  10. mikestallard
    Posted September 18, 2008 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    The Government, right now, could easily reduce spending.
    Mr Brown appears on TV in Sombre Mood wearing his usual undertaker's suit and smile.
    He announces that "things have steadily got to the point where economic retraction is necessitous". He mentions the National Debt standing at well over one trillion pounds sterling.
    He also announces that his own salary is to be reduced.
    He then looks really Scottish as he announces that all Qangos will have to go.
    He reluctantly has to let the people go who are in the Regional Councils.
    A tear rolls from his eye.
    He then announces that, unfortunately…..

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    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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