Some of you yesterday in response to my piece on Labour wanted to know about the Conservatives. That’s a sign of the times, when the Opposition is more important news than the government.
Some advisers to past Conservative leaders were so much the prisoners of Labour’s spin, that they tried to emulate Blair’s strategy in the 1990s. They were always wanting to find a Clause IV momnent, when their Leader could pick a fight with the Conservative party and win, showing it had changed. It was silly thing to want to do, because the Conservative problem was not a past policy problem that went to the core of the party’s identity as nationalisation was to Labour, but the mistaken economic fashion of the ERM they had adopted in the early 1990s which true Conservatives hated anyway.
They never found a way of copying the other part of the Blair strategy, by characterising the errors of their opponents and then remorselessly repeating the negative messages. Indeed, they missed the main point about NuLabour – it was primarily a way of attacking the Conservatives. Under Brown this has been extended, so that practically all policy statements and many government actions are also just traps for the Conservatives. We have an oppositon with a majority, a group of politicians who define themselves by their caricature of their opponents. As people cease to believe Labour generally, so they cease to believe their view of the Conservatives.
So what should David Cameron ‘s Conservatives do? They should move rapidly to the post Brown/Blair era, by showing that politics is about more than messaging and positioning. It is about preparing for government and governing well. What the public wants from the Conservatives is evidence that they have thought a lot about how to turn the country round, and are prepared to take the difficult decisions that will require. Today George Osborne will set out how they will tackle the mess that it is City regulation. That is what they should be doing.
It doesn’t matter if Labour try to steal the policies – many of them will be steps too far for the spinners and adventurers of the government, and it is probably too late to save their bacon even if they now do start doing the right things for a change. It is more important that the current disaster be turned round as quickly as possible for all our sakes. The country wants some competence from its politicians. It has had enough of the age of spin, where the only thing that happens is more money is spent on the government’s advertising and PR budget, and more messages are crafted,designed to portray the government’s opponents in a bad light.