On message?

It’s time for the two main parties to unveil their messages, draft their pledge cards and tell us their “narratives” for the election. Put simply, Labour are saying their storyline is “We saw you through the recession. Don’t let the Tories spoil it”, whilst the Conservatives are saying “We are in a huge mess of Labour’s making. The Conservatives will have to clear it up”.

Labour have come up with some slogan or high level phrase I cannot quite remember about fairness and justice. As far as I am concerned it is higher fares for all with Labour’s one size doesn’t fit all economic policy. The Conservatives have come up with “We can’t go on like this. It is time for a change”, and may be launching more of their headlines today and next week.

Beneath the headlines it has become fashionable to have a pledge card, with five or six specific promises or aims on it to “flesh out” the high level messages and the “narrative”. Mr Blair started all this for his successful 1997 campaign. Most people have forgotten the specifics, but may remember there were “modest” pledges to show Labour was now a moderate and sensible party. It is ironic that Labour’s biggest and most important pledge on those cards was “set tough rules for government spending and borrowing”, followed by “get 250,000 under 25 year olds off benefit and into work”. It all goes to show that some pledge cards are just for an election and not for the life of a government. Because they won, many in politicis today think you must have such pledges.

In 2005 Michael Howard lost. He ran the longest most disciplined and researched campaign the Conservatives had ever run. It revolved around five propositions, expressed in just ten words. I remember them so well, as for six months I did nothing else as a politician than try to find ways of getting them across memorably to audiences. They were “More police, controlled immigration, school discipline, cleaner hospitals, lower taxes”. If a strong simple message and complete party discipline won elecitons, we would have walked it. If saying what people wanted to hear won it, we should have won, as these were well researched propositions that were popular. So why didn’t they work?

Each one of these five had its different problems. “More police” just led Labour to say they had appointed more police, and would appoint more. It also left some voters apprehensive. If they had just been fined for doing 45 mph on an empty dual carriageway with a 40mph speed limit where they thought 50 was a more apppropriate limit they were not amused at the thought of more police with speed guns.

Cleaner hospitals invited people to ask “How?”. All three main parties said they wanted cleaner hospitals. It was difficult persuading people that any lack of hygiene was all Labour’s fault, and that the Conservatives would clean it up.

School discipline again was common ground with all parties claiming to favour it. There needed to be a convincing phrase as to how discipline would be improved with a change of government.

Lower taxes would have been very popular. The Shadow Cabinet only agreed a package of tax cuts late in the day on the eve of the election. Then the leadership delayed its publication, and changed it, announcing the new package after the election had started. It did not leave enough time to get over the three propositions within the package or even to put them in most personal candidate leaflets.

Controlled immigration was the one which generated most controversy. Labour seized on it and tried to make it a negative. Some to this day think it was a misjudgement to spend so much effort on it, taking away from other messages. Others think it was the one which did work, showing that you have to be controversial to get heard. The leadership did not seek to weight it more, but with Labour criticism it developed a life of its own.

Polling after the election showed that voters generally had not picked up on any of the propositions, other than immigration, where a significant minority had heard and remembered the message.

What should we learn from this? Probably that the main message and the mood created by a party is more important than the pledge card, and that trying too hard to get a pledge card across is not time well spent. People want a sense of direction, an understanding of what a politicial party thinks the problems and the oppportunities are and how they will make judgements once in office. Blair’s pledge card was not remembered for its detail. It served to reinforce the message he wanted, that Labour was Tory lite and would not take risks with the economy. What a pity they did not stick to it. The Conservative 2005 pledge card was diverse and did not reinforce any central message about how a Conservative government would run the country, so it did not cut through with the voters. By all means have a pledge card, but ensure it is there to back up the main point or direction.

Today David Cameron will set out the general direction he wants us to go in. His central message will rightly be that this country is crying out for change. His specifics will support that message. His school discipline policy, for example, will show how it will be achieved. The sense of direction is what matters most. If we carry on as we are under the present government it’s a lifetime of debt and more debt for anyone staying in this country to pay the bills.

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62 Comments

  1. no one
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 9:55 am | Permalink

    Re "If they had just been fined for doing 45 mph on an empty dual carriageway with a 40mph speed limit where they thought 50 was a more apppropriate limit they were not amused at the thought of more police with speed guns." oh yes how true, but even on this issue current conservative policies show no sign of returning common sense to how drivers are policed

    you know when Mrs T was on TV before she won the 1st time she had a common sense high level message, but was also able to populate it with lots of detailed examples of how it was going to look

    current policy is far too vauge in too many directions

    • THE ESSEX BOYS
      Posted March 1, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      No one…you've hit it on the head.

      As we've blogged here so often…

      COMMON SENSE AND COMPETENCE

      Their time has come again because Labour has so demonstrably been lacking in both and voters can so easily relate to this message after all that continues to happen in their daily lives.

      Whether Tory High Command can get this across is a matter that we hope to see addressed in Brighton this weekend.

      (Written 28th but late posting)

  2. Kevin Peat
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    In the shallow world of image politics people didn't really like Michael Howard (I did – I also happened to think that William Hague would make a good PM)

    There was nothing wrong with his election pledges and there would be nothing wrong with those today. The simple fact is that – for most people – the fundamentals of life felt alright. They may have griped about immigration and crime but most were personally unaffected by it and did nothing. Their houses were going up in price and wages were keeping pace with inflation and in some cases racing ahead of it – good times ! (Or so they thought)

    Premiership football – cheap money – rising house prices – affordable holiday flights – trash TV … the panem et circenses which was the backdrop of New Labour's candy-robbing of the baby-boomers. Many of the more able of their offspring saw through it and emigrated (how I wish I'd learned a trade)

    The Tories are now in a position that – even if they wanted to – they couldn't connect with their grass-root support. The broadcast media set-up in Britain renders this a politically suicidal act. We are effectively a one party state with elections fought over the 'middle ground'. Most people over a certain age would recognise this 'middle ground' as being way over to the left.

    But I don't believe that the Conservatives think the same way as their natural supporters. Put simply they are not nearly angry enough.

    Brown has done enough to delay the economic depression to:

    A) Win the election
    or
    B) Set the Tories up for a fall

    Mr Cameron has youthful good looks which would be ravaged after a year or two in office. That might be a price worth paying if he were single-minded enough to bring our country back on track – he's not. Frankly – after allowing Blair to win three terms in office – I don't think the people of Britain deserve it anyway.

    • Bob
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 1:17 pm | Permalink

      Cameron could get a better share of female vote if he got a suntan and grew some facial hair.

      Sad fact.

    • APL
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

      Kevin Peat: "There was nothing wrong with his election pledges and there would be nothing wrong with those today."

      The think about Howard for me, was his policy on Identity cards.

      • Kevin Peat
        Posted March 1, 2010 at 11:17 am | Permalink

        I wouldn't have anything against ID cards either – if I thought that the State was on my side.

  3. A.Sedgwick
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:15 am | Permalink

    You are quite right most of these pledges are meaningless if they are not clear and understandable e.g. in/out EU referendum, immigration freeze, zero tolerance policing, repeal of human rights laws, rebuild RN, pull out of Afghanistan.

  4. david b
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    I awoke with alarm today to the news of the YouGov poll. For the first time in a long time I discussed my options with my wife about leaving this country. I have a mass of paperwork to do today. Whats the point I wondered. Any money I make will be drained from me, and its worthless monopoly money anyway after QE.

    I was fortunate to read the link on Politicalbetting however where the weighting of YouGov polls is discussed. It gives me a glimmer of hope.

    I am in Scotland. I will be honest, I am not going to vote for Mr Cameron. My vote will be against Labour however. And I hope you Conservatives win big in the UK. My enemy's enemy and all that.

    To my mind the negative press is the biggest driver of voter volatility here. On friday for the second week in a row I switched off the News Quiz on Radio 4 when Jeremy Hardy started his anti Tory rant. I have paid on at least 3 occasions to watch that man live in theatres, and yet he is now driving me to switch off the radio when I hear him. But his voice is just one of an endless cabal I am subjected to daily. I have given up on most BBC radio news. I long ago stopped watching BBC Breakfast. On the other side GMTV would be unsuitable for lining a budgies cage if it were in paper form.

    Might I suggest that your party urgently address the BBC problem when ( because I hope Flockers is right ) you get back in. Abolish the telly tax and abandon them to their fate. There's a £142 a year tax cut that would be welcome in many households.

    • Liz
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

      It is not just the BBC, disgrace though that is, most of the fomer Tory papers are anti Cameron if not pro Labour. Neither The Daily Mail, which lauds the Browns at every opportunity, or The Telegraph papers,which give a lot of space of anti Tory commentators, ever has a word of support for either the Tories in general or David Cameron and George Osborn in particular.

      • Steve Tierney
        Posted February 28, 2010 at 11:43 pm | Permalink

        To be fair, Liz, its not those papers which have changed. Its us!

        It's all very well deciding the party "has to change" to have a chance of winning again (not something I personally believed held more than a glimmer of truth) but you can't automatically presume that if you do everybody else will follow you.

        Those papers, like the disenfranchised Conservatives who have drifted off to other parties, are not convinced by the new direction.

        I believe that the time for Conservatism is back. The people of Britain are ready to elect a Conservative government. Our mission is to prove we still ARE one. We have been misunderstanding the signals and stretching for the votes on the left – and its not working.

    • Hawkeye
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 4:11 pm | Permalink

      My plans to leave the UK are already in progress. I have already started the process and I am now liquidating my assets. I will leave with cash in my pocket and little else.

      I will be leaving some relatives here and a lot of friends but I refuse to spend the rest of my life working for no purpose.

      Hard work is no longer rewarded in Britain.

    • Kevin Peat
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 11:04 pm | Permalink

      Agree wholeheartedly with stripping the BBC of licence funding. And doing so urgently.

      Far from being a bulwark against tyranny the BBC is instrumental in destroying free speech in Britain.

      Any military strategist will tell you – take out the propoganda machinary first.

  5. startledcod
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:28 am | Permalink

    There is an arguable case to say that Labour followed it’s biggest and most important pledge on the 1997 cards: “set tough rules for government spending and borrowing”. Their deception was not to obey those rules.

    The 'following Tory spending plans' was a political gimmick announced when GB realised that they could not join the Euro if they failed to follow those plans (a 2 year prediction, closely followed, being what was required). Another requirement for joining the Euro was having an independent central bank – hey presto! GB was not opposed to the Euro in 97.

  6. Simon D
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    I shall vote Conservative on 6th May but, sadly, I expect to wake up next day to see Brown remain in Downing Street with a small group of Liberal Democrats in the Cabinet.

    The Conservatives need to do two things to succeed (1) get their core supporters to the polling booths and (2) win over large numbers of floating voters in key marginal seats. Obama-tactics hold the key. Babble on about change, play up the horror and incompetence of the New Labour government and keep the rest of your cards close to your chest.

    Britain is essentially a socialist country and the Conservatives are only credible because a significant tranche of the centre-left throws away its vote on the Liberal Democrats. Scotland, Wales, the industrial towns of the north and midlands and Ken Livingston's territories in London are Conservative no-go areas.

    New Labour has done a brilliant job in creating a client state in the public sector and Brown's master-stroke was to re-invent Mr. Mandelson as the King of Spin. Finally, we have a ridiculous electoral system where constituency boundaries require the Conservatives to poll millions of extra votes to win and where a lead in the popular vote does not guarantee a Conservative government.

    If you loathe New Labour get yourself to the polling booth and vote Conservative. Please don't waste your vote on UKIP. I despise the EU just as fervently as its other opponents, but the job in hand is to get rid of Gordon Brown, not to sprinkle star dust on your beautifully calibrated conscience.

    The floating voters, the stay-at-home Conservatives and the UKIP voters are drinking in the last chance saloon. They will face five years of a left-of-centre pro-EU government which will then be perpetuated for ever by proportional representation. It will be a deeply unpleasant ride and guaranteed to seriously damage their pockets.

  7. JimF
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Pledges can be specific as well as indicating the general direction.
    STOP NET IMMIGRATION would resonate more today than in 2005
    REFERENDUM ON LISBON TREATY AND FURTHER EU INTEGRATION is specific

    • Michele
      Posted March 5, 2010 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU JIM

      ISN'T IT FRUSTRATING THAT THEY DON'T LISTEN

      GOD, WHAT DO WE HAVE TO DO TO GET THEM TO LISTEN?

  8. JimF
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Pledges can be specific as well as indicating the general direction. Take these 5:

    STOP NET IMMIGRATION would resonate more today than in 2005

    REFERENDUM ON LISBON TREATY AND FURTHER EU
    INTEGRATION WITHIN 6 MONTHS is specific and would be popular

    REVERSE 50% TAX RATE AND NI INCREASES to stimulate employment

    CUT CORPORATION TAX TO 10% AND CUT BUSINESS RATES TO STIMULATE ENTERPRISE

    CUT PUBLIC SPENDING TO REMOVE THE DEFICIT TO ZERO WITHIN 4 YEARS whatever it takes

    • Bazman
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      I take it you are either rich, retired, living abroad, paying little tax or all three Jimf? I know for sure none of this nonsense will effect you or the likes of you in any way. As will non of Cameron's government ideas will effect them in any way except to boost their income if Britain is daft enough to elect them. If they cannot be bothered to own it they want to run it, most likely into the ground.

      • JimF
        Posted February 28, 2010 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

        Sadly none of your presumptions about me are true, but it seems you have a problem with them, whereas I see them as aspirations. That sums up the difference between you and most Conservatives, I think….

        • JimF
          Posted February 28, 2010 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

          Sorry I meant are NOT true….

      • Michele
        Posted March 5, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

        Chip on your shoulder need some salt and vinegar Bazman?

  9. WitteringsfromWitney
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Sorry John, but Vote for Change? What change?

    It is obvious that your party have the same ideas as Labour, but differ on how to implement them, so where is the change?

    The two most important questions the electorate want answers and change on are EU membership and immigration. And the Tories response? Denial on the first – they won't even discuss it – and on the second they can do nothing. Capping immigration from outside the EU will not, rpt not, sort out the social problems in our country.

    And for David Cameron to talk about patriotic duty is an insult to the people of Britain when he is quite content with 'rule from abroad', because that is what EU membership means for our country.

    When Cameron loses this election for the Tories, I predict a blood-bath in the Tory Party, so why not have it now and change your leader? Become the Conservative Party once again in name and deed!

    • Ian Pennell
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 6:13 pm | Permalink

      Dear John Redwood

      I am so, so sad Sir to hear the awful news that Labour has closed the gap to just two points. Yes we are just TWO POINTS ahead. I greatly fear what will happen, not just to the economy, but the sovereignty of our entire once great country if Labour win the Election again. I fear Gordon Brown will capitulate, sign away our currency and allow the EU Police and Army to take over Britain. It will then be too late in five years time for voters to realise the dreadful error they made in voting "Labour", for by then there will be NOTHING any British Party could do to make Britain independent again. The Brussels Dictatorship will have all the power, authority and force to control whatever happens in our former country by then!

      THE CONSERVATIVES SHOULD BE SCREAMING THIS THREAT FROM THE ROOFTOPS!

      Ian Pennell

    • Michele
      Posted March 5, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely SPOT ON Whitterings!

      These are the two.

      Pity they won't listen.

      It's not as if it's difficult is it?

      It's why I, reluctantly, drag myself to UKIP meetings.

      I don't want to vote for them but they are the only party truly representing me.

  10. waramess
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 10:58 am | Permalink

    Perhaps you are all too close to the problem. With respect it is no more than credibility and unfortunately all get tarred with the same brush.

    Cameron can't spell out £74 billion in the Tory budget and Osborne seems unable to do so adequately. This is all a bit like climate change: Joe Public does not know the science but can tell when he is being fed a line.

    Even when George manages a policy that might show the public his policies are different to the socialists he fails to use it to the full.

    Gordon believes the economy is built around consumption and therefore thinks when it shrinks pumping money into it will do the trick.

    George says he will reduce corporation tax.

    This is a massive change of direction which shows that George believes that stimulating investment and not consumption will move the economy in the right direction.

    Yet it is given as a throw-away line with no detail, no fanfair, no explanation and maybe even George is just following a line given by one of his advisers and does not himself fully understand the significance.

    The most hated Prime Minister we have ever had in this country now looks like carrying either a victory or at least a hung government.

    Where can you go now that the Tory credibility has been shot to pieces? Nowhere, it is too late, you will just have to dump the pair of them as soon as the election is all over

  11. Andy Hoff
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    DC had better get his act together. Considering he is running against the most incompetent, disliked and almost totally unelected government in Britain's history the Conservatives lead should be 20 points not 5.
    He started off by sounding tough then went all pc. That sort of thing makes people think he's weak or devious. The problems we're facing are now so huge we need someone with the vision and strength to do what is required and not be deflected by every bad headline or Labour press release.
    Tell us how it really is Dave!

    • APL
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 1:55 pm | Permalink

      wharamess: "Where can you go now that the Tory credibility has been shot to pieces? Nowhere, it is too late, "

      Yes, it is a pretty astonishing achievement.

      Andy Hoff: "Tell us how it really is Dave!"

      He has, it really is Green policies, tax paid windmills on the roof, tax funded trips to the North pole to look at ice, why he didn't just open his freezer compartment, I'll never know! Tax on cheap flights, increase fuel duty because we should be using the less efficient trains.

      Notice a pattern? These are all Green policies, Cameron doesn't want Tories to vote for 'Camerons Conservatives', he wants a green party.

      I, a life long Tory, am going to do what David Cameron wants. I'm going to vote for another party. Let's see how many green votes he gets?

    • Simon D
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

      I don't think it is easy for DC to 'get his act together'. If he enunciates more right-wing views (of the kind that might send people like Simon Heffer and Norman Tebbit into a state of ecstasy) it might propel more core supporters to get out of bed and go to the polling booths. It might also tempt UKIP supporters to think twice about throwing away their vote for a party which will not even win a single seat.

      However, too many right-wing policies will put off the 35 year old floating voters in middle England who, it is said, are agonising whether to vote Liberal Democrat again or try the Conservatives for a change.

      This is going to be one of the key elections since 1945. We are a bankrupt country with a broken society and horrendous problems. We are in denial about the mess the Government has created. We all still think it is possible to live well beyond our means. I believe that the last thing the markets will want is five more years of rule by the Labour party with policies aerated by the views of the Liberal Democrats: tax and spend plus phoney public sector cuts and an EU love-in with Mr. Mandelson leading us over the glorious horizon into membership of the Euro.

      Obama-style sound bites about 'change' seems good option to me. The problem is that neither DC nor GO have Obama's celebrity charisma.

      • Bob
        Posted February 28, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

        @ Simon D
        "It might also tempt UKIP supporters to think twice about throwing away their vote for a party which will not even win a single seat."

        Actually, I've spoken to my friends, neighbours and people I work with and they all said they wouldn't be voting for the main parties anymore.

        UKIP came out as the favourite on my straw poll.

        FWIW, they also said they didn't trust the BBC reporting on news and current affairs.

        Even Ben Bradshaw wants to close down the BBC, although I think he's only saying it to gain wavering votes:
        See Link: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1254401/W

        I don't believe him.

        • Michele
          Posted March 5, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

          @ Simon D
          “It might also tempt UKIP supporters to think twice about throwing away their vote for a party which will not even win a single seat.”

          I think politicians do actually think we are that stupid. And this is what is wrong with politics.

          How insulting to even imply that the vote would be wasted.

          A protest vote is a vote.

          Not voting at all is throwing away a vote.

  12. Bill
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    You haven’t been getting the message across, because there is no clear message.
    On the one hand Mr Cameron is going on about the high level of debt and on the other hand announces that
    “Swingeing” cuts would not be needed in the short term.
    That foreign aid is ring fenced, that the NHS is ring fenced.

    This doesn’t give the impression that there is a national emergency.
    The only people getting their message across are the media and commentators, in stating that big spending cuts are inevitable…
    To much of the electorate, those in work, the recession has improved living standards, lower interest rates, and lower mortgage deals. They probably feel some relief and feel that they are over the worst.
    Labour are cushioning the blow by running up more debt.
    People are suspicious of the Conservatives and feel that they are not being candid.
    Why not point out that 20% of the tax take next year will go on interest payments?
    Point out that the pain hasn’t started yet.

  13. tk
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 11:36 am | Permalink

    Unfortunately, "change" as the major carrot in an election campaign has been tried before. Most recently by Obama and already the wheels are coming off God's tricycle. It's as meaningless as any other aspirational slogan.
    It seems that the rot set in, with the polls dipping, about the same time as Cameron and his retinue reneged on the cast iron promise of a referendum on the European constitution. It's no good Hague, or whoever, mouthing off platitudes about it being too late – people don't see that and they know that the destructive European steamroller will carry on regardless, flattening whatever group of English regional councillors we choose to elect in this soon to benon-country. They could at least make it a pledge to hold a referendum on something meaningful instead to at least show willing. Sending Clarke to butter up the Commisars doesn't look as though they're serious.
    Paradoxically, it might be the PIGS that save the day by initiating financial collapse – but there would be uproar if this bankrupt country was dragged into a secret bailout.
    Similar cop-outs over immigration, outmoded political correctness and manipulated election short lists together with the dictatorial lunacy of persisting with the ruinous and discredited climate change agenda are understandably causing sensible people (the majority) to have daily despairing "face-palm" fits.

    And as for the presentation of economic policies "Doh"

    • Fed up with Socialis
      Posted March 1, 2010 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

      The one good thing about the EU, is that productive people like me can up sticks and move our businesses to another place if the unspeakable one eyed Scotch mentalist wins another term. Small business taxes are lower in the RoI, and property is now a lot cheaper.

      I'm joining the Taxodus!

  14. Slightly Green Conse
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 11:37 am | Permalink

    By and large John you make some very good points (as you usually do). The one factor not mentioned, which has a huge impact on how people vote, or whether they even bother or not, is personalities i.e those of the leader and other main frontmen and women. It matters even more so in this media driven age, (and bearing in mind the current reputation of MPs) and despite people saying that they are not swayed by image and personalities – they are.
    It doesn't matter how good or clear the message is, you have to believe in the people delivering it. I'll say no more…..except that I thought that a certain ex party leader from the North sounded very good on TV last night, and I can think of an excellent candidate for Shadow Chancellor should a vacancy ever arise.

    • alan wootton
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 5:09 pm | Permalink

      Shadow Chancellor? Vince Cable perhaps?

  15. Euphrosene Labon
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    Very well put. What a pity the wider world doesn't seem to understand.

  16. Demetrius
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    We do not know where we are, we don't know what might happen, even in the short term, we do not know why we are doing some things and not doing others, and we do not know what others are going to do to us. So any "pledge" or promises are a fiction based on past information much of which is very unreliable. Manning the barricades comes to mind, but for that we need a coherent leadership capable of acting and reacting.

  17. Michael
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 12:27 pm | Permalink

    John,

    We badly need a change of government, so I hope that the messages coming out of the conference will restore confidence in the Tories.

    To do this, they need to show that:

    1) they support the foundations of our democracy and economy, namely transparency and accountability, freedom of information and freedom of expression. David Cameron has shown that he is good at damage limitation in a crisis, but not that he cares about preserving the foundations long term.

    2) their judgement can be trusted; I shall continue to have serious doubts about this while David Cameron has senior advisers such as Coulson with his provenance as an editor of a sensationalist tabloid and his performance there.

    3) their policies are based on evidence that is critically appraised for reliability and relevance. Recent events in which statistics were carelessly used cast serious doubt on this.

  18. onion
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

    I have no idea whether or not my personal experience is representative of anything. But I'll share it anyway and leave it to others to judge!

    Up until late last year, I was broadly supportive of Cameron's leadership under the presumption that he would be more 'conservative' and pro-democracy once he got into power. Three things changed my mind:

    – the EU. Ruling out an in/out referendum so speedily and settling on an incredibly weak 'opt-out of EU employment legislation' as a substitute. It shows a complete lack of comprehension of what's at stake. Employment legislation is not the main problem with the EU. Its fundamentally anti-democratic nature, where the laws inflicted upon us are made by unelected officials, is.

    – Global warming/ cap 'n trade. Cameron's position is to re-educate PPCs on the 'reality' of global warming just as the evidence base is crumbling. Read the submission of the Institute of Physics to the Parliamentary investigation into Climategate to observe just how far from real scientists this foolish man has positioned his policies. Frankly, when someone who wishes to lead the country displays such ignorance, I can't help but feel contempt. You know what it's like when you're with kids who insist they know something but are actually ignorant – Cameron and Yeo are like that, only miles worse because they're adults calling wiser folk 'deniers'.

    – speaking with a Cameroon SpAd, I got confirmation that political philosophy and policy comes a distinct second to winning the election. The trouble is their strategy for winning the election depended on an exhaustive analysis of polling data which determined policy. By doing this, they've decided upon an entirely reactive strategy and are now in trouble as the polls change.

    Team Cameron have tarnished themselves in my eyes, and there is no way back for them. It's too late for him to set out what his 'direction' is. He has already been judged on his actions.

    It wasn't rocket science. Pro-democracy, pro free market, anti-bailout, pro-science – that was the direction they had to take. They've strayed so far from that that to change again now makes them shifty. No speechifying today will change that. Sad

  19. Gabriel
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

    John, if I may, I've been with the view for some time that your blogs are far too long. It's a bit of a turn-off and slow-going. A blog shouldn't necessarily be an essay unless you're posting on say a weekly basis on a broader subject.

    To your credit, you are a regular blogger. I think at the rate of which you write, your posts should be about half the size. I mention this in a purely positive way.

    Sometimes, a blog can be a little overbearing and the message is lost before it's ever read – if you see what I mean. I think you've got something to say, but I do think the way the internet operates, that you would get more people involved and interested if a) your blogs were to become more to the point, b) you broadened their appeal like Lord Tebbit's (opening up a vast dialogue between your readers) c) you engaged more with your readers and d) resisted making multiple posts per day – if they're of any great length.

    I really don't like to put it this way, but I fear there's a chance that you're verging towards quantity in the minds of readers. You definitely have quality but you can secure that by the points mentioned above.

    Many thanks for reading, and again I write this in a good-spirited way offering nothing more than positive criticism.


    Gabriel

    • A Griffin
      Posted February 28, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Permalink

      I completely disagree with every suggestion in this comment, while recognising that it's writer is trying to be helpful. I like John's blogs because they are thoughtful essays and judging by the detailed and regular comments that he gets, they are enjoyed and appreciated by his readers. I think we are all in danger of feeling desperate at the poll gap closing and are liable to clutch at any change to try and turn things around.
      In 1997 I remember the Daily Telegraph was so over the top supportive of the Conservatives that I got cross with it because it was clearly out of step with the public mood. Might the same thing be happening now with the largely pro Labour media despite the polls? Are the BBC and like missing just how sick of Labour the public really are? Are they trying to ram a labour message down the throats of people who don't really want it?
      It seems to me that the increase in labour's poll level is just down to clever marketing of Mr Brown as a strong and incicive man and it is working! If the public are swaying in the wind like this then there is everything to play for.
      Be strong, be brave, be united, believe in the history of your great party, be friendly and polite and don't let Labour scare you. In the words of another posh Tory who saved the country "Let us go forward together".
      Nice to see the party website has been improved.

  20. Lola
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

    If Brown (not Labour – Brown isn't Labour, Labour always generally made an attempt at responsibility and honesty) wins it's not just a lifetime of debt that we'll face. It will be a permanent loss of liberty for the UK. There will be a change of the voting system to gerrymander future elections. This is not an election on the economy alone. It is an election for Liberty.

  21. JohnRS
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    John

    You're correct, the voters are ready for change. But that's not what they're being offered.

    Cameron's policies are being described all around the country as BluLieBore or NuLieBore-Lite because people can see there's virtually no difference between his words and those of the incumbent troop of bullies and liars. The more he puts out basically the same messages as Brown the lower the lead….does he not get this?

    Until the Conservatives are conservative they will not win significant support. After all if you have to have NuLieBore's policies you may as well have NuLieBore.

  22. Andy
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    i could have saved your painstakingly long and disciplined campaign and turned it in to a winner in two words.
    'No Wars'.

    i could also win you the next campaign in two words.
    'EU Referendum'.

  23. Steve Cox
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    It's a good analysis, John, but I beg to differ with your concluding paragraph.

    "Today David Cameron will set out the general direction he wants us to go in. His central message will rightly be that this country is crying out for change."

    A certain part of the country (like you and me and most of the people adding their thoughts on your blog) are certainly crying out for change, but not enough by a long, long way, to be sure that it will happen.

    Michael Portillo wrote an interesting piece in The Times a week or so ago, examining this very issue. His conclusion was that – unlike in 1979 – things are bad but not yet in complete chaos, and so voters tend to be conservative (with a small 'c') and stick with the devil they know. It's sad that so many supposedly responsible voters cannot see what a tragedy we are in the midst of, but hey, this is a democracy after all (or so I have been assured).

    Of course, a more Machiavellian explanation would be that NuLab's policies of the unbridled expansion of immigration combined with giving just about every man and his dog benefits, regardless of income, may just have worked sufficiently for them that the British electorate has become permanently warped.

    Whichever it is, it's very, very sad for the future of this country. If the Clown is elected for another 5 years of madness, we shall soon be envying those affluent Greeks.

  24. ps
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    The You Gov poles must be seen as a wake up call. Labours Alice in wonderland policies can't be allowed to continue or UK plc will be bust and the consequences of this appalling for the whole electorate. The PC strategy that DC is pursuing need to be ditched for some strait talking, hard hitting arguments against allowing labour back into power. The great advantage of this strategy is that most of the electorate would appreciate honesty from the leadership as to what the future is likely to bring.

  25. Matt
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 3:07 pm | Permalink

    If the latest poll, is supported in the coming days and weeks and proves not to be a rouge poll, watch the £ sink.

    Maybe a sterling crisis will get the message across to the British public in a way that Mr Cameron hasn’t so far achieved.

  26. Derek Buxton
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 4:02 pm | Permalink

    We all want a change, definitely, but to get Cameron will change little. He worships at the same altar as Brown, EU, greeny things, AGW, big government, big spending. Hey, what is the change there. We are broke, his "green" attitude is going to cost billions, money we have not got and in addition we have a failing energy supply system which no one is doing anything about. I do not think that Cameron understands the disaster that will happen if the grid breaks down, most processes are computer controlled, no power, the lot just stop.

  27. Mark J
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    What is going on in Conservative HQ?? How could they have let the Conservative lead drop to a mere TWO points as being reported in the newspapers today. If the Conservatives cannot oust the Labour party and their "I saved the world" Leader, after their shambolic attempts at runing the country then it is time for the Conservatives to close up shop.

    This election should have been an outright victory to the Conservatives, with poll results showing as much as a 17 point lead as of late last year. Over that time we have seen David Cameron make bold pledges only to backtrack on them later.

    May I suggest Mr Redwood, that as a Conserative veteran that you say some harsh words to Mr Cameron and Osbourne for throwing away the best chance in years for the Conservatives to get back into power.

    If Labour get back in and they will pass the infamous AV voting system, that we all know has been chosen due to it favouring Labour, that means we could be stuck with them forever!

  28. Neil Craig
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

    "Change" as a policy has been much devalued by Obama's inability to produce it. Everybody is in favour of change but the detail of what change & in what direction is more difficult.

    I think the Tories should put 85% of effort into the economy & the forthcoming blackouts. I would like the positive part of the message to be to point out that even in the "good" years Labour's growth was only 1/2 the world average & to say how they cna & would at least reach that average (Osborne has said they would cut corporation tax & regulation, which is absolutely right, but without saying how & by how much. The negative part would be to say we are going down the Greek path, that under Labour we face, at best Japan's decades of zero growth & that the only thing stopping lenders shutting the purse is the expectation that after March/May there will be a non-Labour government – basically saying exactly how bad things are & scaring people into not voting Labour. It may well be to late for the Conservatives to push the positive part with much credibility.

  29. Mike Stallard
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 6:02 pm | Permalink

    I am very lucky to be married to an ex nurse who has a typically English outlook. She loathes politics and never shows any interest except in the various scandals. She usually votes though.
    She just isn't interested in the national debt. She has not got a clue about deficit/default differences. She is fascinated by immigration because of the TV series. She is very much against fox hunting and very much indeed against any form of smoking.
    If there was a woman in the Conservative or Labour ranks who could get a woman's point of view across (cost of living? Immigration? Taxation? Savings? NHS?) she would be craning her neck to get a look at the TV screen, I can tell you.
    On a walk today in what was once a very friendly little village, I pulled a wooden door and a plastic door stop out of our duck pond while four yobbos in hoodies walked elegantly past. The place had doubled in size over the past five years and these people are comers in. My wife's comment was strange: "You'll get yourself into trouble if you go on like that."
    So tell me, how is the election going to pan out? Pledge cards, the mess up over the EU, the fact that Mr Cameron looks a little like a rather portly Blair all make the "heir to Blair" jibe all too true.

    On the other hand, is there any person in the whole of the UK, even a Scot, going to cast their vote for Mr Brown who is personally very unpleasant, who has snitched out pensions, who sat on his hands while "Tony" went to war, having bent the lawyers, with Iraq, and who now has personally ruined a very healthy economy?

    Is there ANYONE who is enthusiastic about making our little country habitable and friendly and nice, because down here in the wet, February Fens, it doesn't seem like it.

  30. Jim Scott
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 6:36 pm | Permalink

    I'm in despair at the latest polls. Given the total shambles that Labour have made of things over the past few years, it's almost beyond belief that they still appear to be in with a chance of being re-elected. While I can appreciate that many people for various reasons will not wish to vote Tory, Lib-Dem or SNP, I find it incredible that anyone would actually consider giving their vote to the Labour Party. They simply do not deserve it. It also speaks volumes about our perception of David Cameron and George Osborne that Labour aren't facing a total wipe-out at the forthcoming election.

  31. Ian Jones
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 6:44 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if those being polled know that Brown will only call an election if he sees the opinion polls going his way….. lets hope.

    Otherwise its abandon ship, I'm not staying to pay for everyone else when I cant afford a house……

  32. Brian Tomkinson
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 7:56 pm | Permalink

    Whatever any politician says is useless if the electorate does not believe or trust them. The Conservative votes have been dropping since the last conference in October when Cameron failed to issue a strong rallying cry. That should have been the moment when he really showed that he was ready to take the highest political office but, much to my disappointment, he failed. This followed his decision to abandon his pledge to hold a referendum on the Lisbon treaty. This reflected badly on the question of whether he can be trusted to do what he says. Since then there have been confusing signals about what a Conservative government would do about the enormous public debt. His speech today was better but there is still a lot more to do to regain the previous support. The threat of five more years of Brown and all the dangers that poses for the country seems to be the clearest message at the moment. Pity there isn't a convincingly more positive one.

  33. no one
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    john i love you

    but "ring fence" of the foreign aid budget when my father is dying in the nhs for want of basic treatment which would be routine elsewhere in europe is not a message which i like

    we aint got the money for the current foreign aid budget, especially half a billion a year to india which is raping this country

    i want to help you so much, im tempted to take half a year off and volunteer to work at central office through the election, but you know i dont think id be welcome my accent doesnt fit and i didnt go to oxbridge

    floods of intra company transfer visas issued to folk from outside the EU

    illegal immigrants allowed back on the streets after being found by the authorities

    my son is going to end up going to a worse school than i did unless i move countries

    we are truely in deep do do

    please please talk sense to this conservative leadership!

    i love you, sad but true, no other mp is closer to my views

    but you know ive never made a political donation other than to dave nellist who i thought had some common sense

    i think we need a real "war cabinet" with you and frank field in it

    i dispair at dave

    i dispair at a polical class than have never worked a day in the wealth creating private sector

    sorry tell me what to do, i want us to win

    Reply: All are welcome, whatever their background or accents.

  34. DennisA
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

    You Gov polls are a bit suss anyway. I used to fill them in until they stopped paying a small fee and now just offer entry to a prize draw. They started only in 2000, why are they allowed to be so influential. Questions are very restrictive and often don't allow sufficient options, very much on the lines of "have you stopped beating your wife"? I think in general they produce a labour bias which is then used to effect by encouraging people to believe that Brown still has a lot of support in the country.

    RE Cameron, he should offer the Referendum that he promised and he should ditch the Climate Act, get rid of his green front bench, don't ring fence foreign aid because it is being wasted on climate propaganda, ignore the EU directive and keep our coal fired power stations running, stop all wind farm projects, cancel the landfill tax and promote energy from waste. Then I'll vote for him.

  35. ps
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Tony Abbott has managed to do the impossible down against Kevin Rudd (who is an Australian Tony Blair), this was against all expectations as when he was voted in he was dismissed as a no hoper.
    His trump card is that he is direct and highly cynical of what Rudd and Australian Labour are up to. His predecessor Turnbull followed a Cameroon style that voters weren't impressed with.
    Perhaps John Redwood can get someone at Conservative central office to take notice before we are subjected to 5 years of Brown/Marxist mayhem.
    http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKSGE61R00E201002

    Australian PM takes "pounding" in new opinion poll
    Sun Feb 28, 2010 6:50am GMT

    * New poll shows ruling Labor party on the slide

    * Sample too small to conclude PM Rudd would lose election

    * Rudd admits government needs to lift its game (Recasts after comments from PM and opposition leader)

    By Mark Bendeich

    SYDNEY, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Australia's ruling Labor party lost its lead over the opposition for the first time since winning power in 2007, after a barrage of setbacks on environmental policy, according to a new opinion poll on Sunday.

    The Taverner poll, published in the Sun-Herald newspaper, shows Labor and the conservative opposition neck-and-neck on 50 percent and chimes with a chorus of recent opinion polls showing a steady drop in support for Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's party.

  36. Farmer Geddon
    Posted February 28, 2010 at 9:34 pm | Permalink

    I don't know which is funnier – watching a smirking Ed Balls thinking the Labour party will snatch an election win or the evolving rapid descent to chaos in the Tory party. Cameron is unable to effectively delineate the major policy differences between Tories & Nu-lab because there aren't any. All rather sad for the poor electorate.

  37. NickB
    Posted March 1, 2010 at 1:30 am | Permalink

    I was going to add my twopenneth, but Onion and DennisA seem to have got there first.

    The Lisbon Treaty and the Climate Act. Sort these two out, Dave, and you might get my vote back. Sadly, I know you won't

    And as for the twits who complain about those who intend to vote for UKIP, all I can say is that the difference between Brown and Cameron on the two issues mentioned above is negligible, so whatever main party wins, the policy will be the same. However, I for one will be able to sleep with a sound conscience knowing that I voted for the only party that appreciates the potentially devastating future that the Lisbon Treaty and the Climate Act will bring about.

  38. colin
    Posted March 1, 2010 at 2:22 am | Permalink

    If the number of people in England who voted Concervative as against Labour, counted,you would also have won!

  39. Lindsay McDougall
    Posted March 1, 2010 at 2:39 pm | Permalink

    UKIP are often criticised for being a one issue party, although they do have policies on topics other than Europe. A 'broad church' party like the Conservatives, aiming for 40%+ of the vote, needs to cover every major issue in its manifesto, even if it focuses only on one or two during the campaign.

    Campaigning is not restricted to the two front benches. 'Big beasts' on the back benches can make a major impact. Enoch Powell won two elections, for the Conservatives in 1970 and for Labour in February 1974. He did not win them single handedly but in both there was late swing in the polls in the final week of campaigning, when Enoch was making his speeches.

    In 1970, Enoch's 5 speeches were on:
    Balance of Payments and Prices
    Immigration
    The Enemy Within
    Common Market
    'Vote Tory'

    It was the second and fifth speeches that produced the nationwide reaction.

    In February 1974, Enoch made two major speeches. The themes were leaving the politically motivated EC and the fact that the Conservatives had introduced wage price controls and bailed out 'lame ducks', contradicting pledges given in its 1970 manifesto. Ted Heath asked "Who governs Britain?" So did Enoch. The response in the Midlands was overwhelming.

    I think that in the forthcoming election campaign, there will be a need for a senior Conservative backbencher to make two major contributions to the camapign.

    One will be on the debt interest disaster looming if Labour is re-elected; this could be a pdf file freely downloadable, full of chart and tables to support the logic in the words. There will be ample scope to make peoples' flesh creep.

    The other should be on the scope of our renegotiation of membership with the EU, including a proposal regarding unilateral actions that we can take if they won't co-operate. Again, a freely downloable pdf file should be available.

  40. Jeremy Stanford
    Posted March 2, 2010 at 2:19 am | Permalink

    As JR generally concludes, 5 policy pledges are hardly the stuff to win elections. In fact, even the idea that the public might be influenced to elect a government on just five disconnected issues is absurd, especially now when the country's problems are so numerous and vast.

    Right now what we need is not new pledge cards but a new philosophy in government that offers a new approach to solving our problems leaving people freer, more in charge of their own destiny and positive about their and the country's future.

    Cameron hasn't offered us this yet. I think its time he stopped trying to go it alone and trusted his whole shadow cabinet to present a united government-in-waiting with answers or at least directions across the whole ministerial spectrum. Then blitz the voters.

  • About John Redwood


    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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