Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Dave's Cruel Summer

2013. Labour had a crap summer. As MPs departed for sunnier climes a great gaping political hole opened up. Into its maw poured all kinds of grumbles and whinges, with advice tacked on. "Ed needs to do this. We need some policy. We're not cutting through." Since then Labour's policy maypole has got firmly planted, and the shadow cabinet are spending the silly season dancing around it, tying yet more ideas and initiatives to the mast. Under the heading of 'The Choice', Labour are using the news vacuum to get its message across. Good.

Conversely, Dave's summer woes are piling up. First, there is Gaza. With appalling suffering filling our screens, with Israel's spin being called out as utter bullshit in the court of public opinion, our Prime Minister has been nowhere. There's been a couple of platitudes about Palestinian victims, but these are always qualified by unambiguous support for Israel. That all his office could do was cry foul and accuse the opposition of "playing politics" when Labour condemned the slaughter. Prattling on as if some sort of gentleman's agreement was in effect merely underlined how out of touch the PM is. Once more on a foreign policy issue, Dave has been found wanting. Once more on an issue demanding leadership, Ed Miliband has pre-empted him.

It could all about to get worse for Dave too. The Tory pack's reporting of Sayeeda Warsi's resignation yesterday has been ungraceful by their own shoddy standards. Having seen hard Tory Zionists like Louise Mensch roundly condemn Israel's massacre, I have no doubt Warsi's feeling on this is genuine. Her opposition is in tune with reservations in the wider party too. Andrew Mitchell has come out for an arms embargo on Israel. Hugo Swire is reportedly very unhappy too. Even Boris Johnson, for once, did not mince his words. Dave needs a restive parliamentary party like a splitting headache.

Ah yes, Boris. Finally he's done with the dithering and announced he's looking for a seat. Dave's put on a brave face that fools no one. Yes, Johnson wouldn't be looking for a way back in if he thought the Tories were more likely than not to get back in next year. That much is clear. But what the punditry are missing is how destabilising this could prove to be in the meantime. First, to have the second most senior Tory in the land and, arguably, the party's best-known asset declaring the 2015 match over before the first service can only dampen the mood of Tory activists. Some business-types might hold back the cash thinking it's a lost cause, and others will sit on their hands because they prefer Johnson to lead a "proper" Tory party back to power in 2020.

An additional problem is the Parliamentary Conservative Party or, rather, the behaviour of his lieutenants. Johnson wants the top job. But so do George Osborne and Theresa May. As intellectually deficient the Tories collectively are, they have low cunning in spades. Neither Camp May nor Camp Gidders are going to take a Johnson comeback lying down. In fact, in a rare Machiavellian move Dave's recent reshuffle was about securing the succession for Osborne. As Johnson spoke to the press this morning, text messages and emails winged back and forth inside the respective camps. Grids will be put into place as plans are drawn up. The Tories then will be fighting a two front war - an unconventional general election campaign most of them think they're going to lose, and an internal leadership struggle. With the latter break out into the open before next May? It's difficult to see how it won't.

If going into a difficult election with a dysfunctional party wasn't enough to spoil Dave's summer, there's more. Last night Alistair Darling, on the whole, did a good job debating Alex Salmond. Instead of losing, like - again - the punditry erroneously predicted, Darling arguably won. Yes, the First Minister had him on the ropes a couple of times. But on two key issues - uncertainty over currency, uncertainty over pensions - Salmond retreated into 'it'll be alright on the night' platitudes. And don't even mention the aliens. While for the sake of the union it is a good thing Darling is leading Better Together than Flashman Dave, it looks bad that the Tories are having to rely on Labour leadership to save the status quo. Far more damaging, however, is what the debate augers for the election campaign. Salmond is no push over and is one of the most formidable politicians in the UK. Yet armed with facts and figures Darling was able to effectively oppose substance to style, to slay rhetoric with uncomfortable truths. And, it appears, ordinary people quite liked it. Pleasingly, after obviously following my advice, Ed Miliband's speech on Ed Miliband signals a welcome abandonment of stunts and embraces his wonky, political strengths. This is what 'The Choice' strategy is all about: doubling down on the issues and leaving the airbrushing to Dave. And Dave's back room helpers, the Crosbys, the Messinas, the Murdoch cronies and the like know he hasn't a Tory on Merseyside's chance of going toe-to-toe on this terrain. TV debates? Dave will do all he can to duck them.

If you look at Tory messaging this last year, they think their hope lies in hopelessness, of ramming home relentlessly hate, fear, scapegoating and the tough action needed to crack down on them. Unions, benefits, Europe, immigrants, this is the shit ingot the Tories wish to transmute into electoral gold. Yet when asked what are the most important issues facing voters and their families, respondents on this YouGov poll consistently rank immigration as a low priority issue with welfare and Europe. 'Economy' is edging downwards while housing and, crucially, health are moving in ways Dave would not want them to. And as Labour are determined to personalise the coming election by asking people whether they feel better off now than they did five years ago, it's difficult to see how the Tories can counter this without redoubling their negative efforts.

As Dave holidays in Portugal, he must know the writing is on the wall, that the next nine months are going to be excruciating and agonising as his authority bleeds away and the problems pile up. It couldn't be happening to a nicer guy.


Robert said...

Then again if Scotland votes no and Dave then wins next year expect bumper stickers all over Scotland saying Don't blame me I voted Yes.

Phil said...

Lol. Scotland will vote no. And Dave is not going to win.