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Why Tories are not home and dry, and wrong to call GB callous

Posted on 10 November 2009 | 1:11pm

Sorry – ok, no I’m not – to return to the day I got a call from the Telegraph asking for a quote on a poll showing Labour 37 points ahead.

But let’s try to be inside the head of David Cameron. Let’s reflect on the fact that we are in recession, with unemployment up and public spending cuts to some services certain. Politics has been dominated by MPs’ expenses. British troops are involved, and some dying, in a difficult and protracted war with no end in sight and a recent surge in media and public opinion against it.

We have had the conference season, in which the Tories had a great chance to showcase their people and their policies to the nation. To help them, they have had the most uncritical and unquestioning media environment ever to surround an Opposition leader. They have had the Sun switch from Labour to Tory since when the anti-Labour bias has become stronger, most recently with the storm whipped up over GB’s letter to the mother of a soldier killed in Afghanistan.

All this on the back of the inevitable ‘time for a change’ mood that is bound to develop when one party has been in power for 12 years.

And yet, last night Cameron’s team took a call from The Times to tell them not of a growing poll lead, but one which has been cut to ten points.

No one poll tells a story, and the trend in the polls has had the Tories ahead for some time.

But if the current media mood reflected the genuine public mood, Cameron and Co would be out of sight.

So why aren’t they? Because as I have been telling them for yonks, they have not done the strategic heavylifting required to indicate real change, and the public are not daft. They know the Tories have not really changed.

The recent spats on Europe, even with The Sun’s news blackout on Cameron dropping the pledge of a referendum, have reminded people of that. So does their single tax pledge – to cut inheritance tax for the wealthiest estates in Britain. The longer they stick to that one, the more people will suspect a deal has been done with influential and wealthy backers somewhere along the line.

And they see too that whilst Cameron and his band of unknowns will pop up to criticise Labour every hour of the day, when the question is asked ‘but what will you do?’ answer comes there none.

Yesterday we had the latest example. Ed Miliband sets out the next steps for nuclear energy. Too late, cry the Tories. Ok, say the public, but if we vote for you, you’re in within months. So what will you do? Er …

Remember when Dave was changing his logo to a tree, sledging with huskies in the Arctic, putting a wind turbine on his roof, cycling to work (albeit with car behind trying to avoid the snappers) and saying ‘vote blue, get green’? Every single one of those is a presentational tactic. But what is his environmental policy should be he PM? You don’t know. Nor does he.  What is he saying should happen at the Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen? You don’t know? Nor does he.

So on he goes, thinking a glib line here, a nice photo there, and he’ll be home and dry. Who knows? Maybe with all the difficulties outlined above, he’s right.

But I think the public, even if the media aren’t, are starting to ask a few more questions and finding the answers somewhat deficient, if not, often, non-existent.

On GB’s letter … I have a few of those. I just dug out the one he wrote when my father died. He didn’t have to, but he did. It is in the now familiar black felt pen. Some of the words are a bit difficult to read. ‘Alastair’ with 3 As looks suspiciously like ‘Alistair’ with 2 Is. But it talks about his feelings for his father, and his feelings when he died, and it was a nice gesture at a difficult time for me and my family.

Given all the other pressures on a Prime Minister’s time, that meant something.

He will be mortified that anyone, least of all the grieving mother of a dead young soldier, might think he would be callous or disregarding of his sacrifice or their suffering.

Until a few weeks ago, the Sun would never have thought so either.

  • David Fagan

    Good blog alistair (now…have I spelled that correctly ;-)) The Sun’s abuse of this non-story is disgusting…but, of course it was ever thus…and those who live by the sword…

    As for your attempts to goad the Tories into actually saying something…nice

  • Malcolm Hunte

    I have noticed Cameron being more low profile. Is this deliberate? do they think that maybe they are not doing as well as they should be because people have seen too much?

  • Phil

    The lead in the Times poll has not been cut to ten percent. Both Labour and Tories are one percent down on the last Times poll – which also gave the Tories a ten percent lead. Different pollsters, different leads.

  • Harriet Pearse

    I think most people will think the attacks on Brown over this letter are ott and unfair, particularly as the mother seems to have taped his call ,The media attacks on him go too far

  • Em

    I was livid over the letter. This woman lost her son and she’s worried about a spelling mistake??? Then I remembered. That’s grief. Been there, done that. The Mail and other scummy papers are so wrong to milk this because the poor woman is going to feel awful about it in months from now.

    You wrote: “I have been telling them for yonks, they have not done the strategic heavylifting required to indicate real change, and the public are not daft. They know the Tories have not really changed.”

    Alastair, will you please stop giving them tips, please?

    😉

  • Kiri

    On the issue of GB’s letter, I for one have been appalled at the coverage this has gotten across the media, not just the Sun. GB’s eyesight is poor, handwriting apparently quite sloppy – but the gesture was well-meaning, and the thought really does count. The grieving mother is entitled to her opinion, and I can’t imagine what she’s going through, but the blatant exploitation of her grief by the Sun in particular just turns the stomach.

  • Dick the Prick

    Geez – actually agree with you. The biggest problem is apathy and the Tories can’t promise anything but pain and you are quite right in that Dave’s a bit of a lightweight. Pretty shit time to be a Tory really but considering that we’re gonna have to work for yonks to clean up the steming pile of crap then you should thank your lucky stars you can just sit and whinge from the side lines.

    18 Labour members quit en masse from a local Labour Association last week – I guess everyone in politics feels like they’re walking through treacle. May take up lap dancing lessons – can’t be too difficult – just shake my hairy arse in people’s faces and blag a £20 off em. Maybe not – hmm.

  • Mark \’Elvis\’ Wright

    The arrogance of The Sun has been exposed for all to see. They’ve taken one step too far. I’m glad they’ve taken it because their agenda is now obvious to all. People don’t like being taken for idiots, even if they are idiots.

  • Marjorie Smith

    THE SCUM AT THE SUN
    Marjorie Smith

    The Sun’s squalid ambush of Gordon Brown, by surreptitiously taping a private conversation between the PM and the mother of the deceased Grenadier Guardsman Jamie Janes deserves the utmost condemnation.

    The exploitation of a mother’s grief for political ends by the Sun is a new low in the conduct of the print media in the UK. This follows the disgraceful treatment of Gordon Brown’s visual disability the day before in the Sun, when Gordon Brown had sent a handwritten letter to Mrs Janes. Poorly written, it may have been, but that’s the very nature of his disability which has been so shamelessly exploited for nefarious political ends by the editorial scum at the Sun.

    This is an outrageous breach of privacy and it should be noted was obviously a set-up by journalists at the Sun, without doubt with the full knowledge of the Editor AND the Chief executive of Murdoch’s News International. This has not beeen Mrs Janes acting alone.

    One future initiative the PM should introduce immediately, is that any private conversation between the PM and a member of the public, should be conducted only on a encrypted phone that is provided (for the duration of the call only) by the cabinet office to the person involved.

    This follows the dreadful coverage of the PM’s “supposed” conduct at the rememberance service at the cenotaph, when he allegedly failed to bow his head in respect, no doubt being more concerned, because of his very poor eyesight, about not falling over when walking backwards downstairs

    The conduct of the right-wing tabloid press over the past few days has been utterly appalling in relation to the Prime Minister’s disabilty and if it was anybody else in public life outside politics, the journalist involved wouldn’t even have started putting pen to paper. This has been a deliberate attempt by editorial teams in each of the right-wing press dictating to their minions what they wanted to see in their papers.

    The Editor of the Sun, Dominic ‘Bizarre’ Mahon, whose only real experience of journalism seems to have been confined to celebrity tittle-tattle (which I suppose makes him a perfect choice as editor of a downmarket tabloid) seems not to care one jot about journalstic ethics generally and the ethics code of the ineffectual Press Complaints Commission in particular.

  • Adro

    Glib lines? Sorry Alastair, but New Labour are hardly ones to talk. The entire Govt has been making policy on a whim for years, with no real answers, just announcements. Admittedly, Blair was a bit better than the current administration, but still we have a government that does not do serious policy research, and thinks they can fool the public that they are taking ‘action’ with scheme after scheme after scheme announced. Half the supposed measures to counter the recession have only helped a minute number of households compared to what the Govt stated it would. Even then, the measures taken here clearly aren’t working as we are the last major economy left in recession!

    You bemoan the Tories, but the difference is that they have been putting in serious policy work behind the scenes, consulting with a wide range of groups and gathering ideas and formulating. Just because they don’t go for a spin-heavy ‘announce everything’ (even when it is still at best half-baked) approach does not mean they have no policies. Most people on the street prefer this considered approach to the current busted-flush method of announcements. Even then the Govt has not real policy, no proper agenda. Thats one reason why it is so unbelievably unpopular.

    Agreed on the Letter Row though. The Sun has made a mess of this and is looking foolish. If they wanted to criticize, they should be looking at the procurement failures and the inability of the Govt to ensure troops are properly cared for, both on and off deployment. Gordon’s hand-writing has little to do with the issue. A Mother’s grief is a powerful thing, and it was right for Brown to write a letter, even if his poor eyesight leaves it a little messy.

  • edballsforleader

    Yeah, poor old GB – what a tough life he has had and all that. Yawn. Lads in the armed forces call it as they see it and they know they were seen off massively (equipment/pay/support wise) by TB and GB in the years from 2003 to 2009 – just have a look at ARRSE and you’ll get a sense of the disdain in which they’re held – particularly TB’s money grubbing activities after he left office. GB is a man child who has never had a proper job in his life – he would make a good third rate academic in a fourth rate Uni somewhere – thats about it.

    I come from a labour family – post 2003 I’ll never vote labour again; and for that you can thank yourself AC and old Tony ‘I am the Messiah’ Blair.

  • David

    Okay, just to put my cards on the table, i vote Conservative. I always have. I’m a true blue at heart. I’m also a former soldier who has gone through a considerable amount of Sandhurst Officer training. Like all political followers, i often look for ways to critique the opposition and laud media coverage of their errors & short-comings.
    However, i do feel that this recent media strategy against GB and his purported spelling errors & poor literacy are grossly unfair.
    Like it or not, GB is our Prime Minister. He’s not what one would call a ‘media savvy’ chap nor does he possess the charisma and people power of his predecessor.
    I can appreciate the delicacy and poignancy of the emotions felt by a grieving Mother but Prime Minister Brown is clearly trying to show some degree of sentiment here. If there are spelling mistakes…..come on, he’s human. We all make spelling errors from time to time (i’ve made several here & had to go back & correct them) & i don’t have the pressure on my shoulders of running a country and having to justify every action.
    Despite this and being aware he would be in receipt of further negativity, GB contacted the grieving Mother by phone and further expressed his condolences.
    He has done nothing wrong in this instance. I do feel for his predicament.

  • Adro

    On another point, the poll lead was not ‘cut’ as you claim. Labour went down 1 on the same poll. Therefore it has stayed at 10%. Also anothe poll for the Independent, aggregating many of the polls so far, puts the Tories on 42% and Labour on 28%. So the Tories aren’t doing as badly as you would love us to think.

    But wait, they aren’t doing as well as Labour in 1996 and so haven’t ‘sealed the deal’. Wrong and Right actually. I agree that the Tories haven’t done all they could, and with the dire nature of the current Govt, they could do better. However, they are doing better than Labour at the same time in 96. Political Betting have done a nice post on Nov 1st that point out that in 96, despite the rise of New Labour, the major Govt still had a 34% poll share (to Labour’s 47), giving Labour a 13% lead. The same pollster’s survey this time put the results at Con: 42 Lab: 25 Lib: 21. So the Tories are actually doing better.

    Only one poll though, eh.

  • Mike Hunt

    Regarding GB’s letter I cannot begin to imagine what is going through the mother’s mind, and those who say she should be ashamed of running to the Sun can have no idea either. But the newspaper’s attempt to portray GB as lacking compassion when he clearly feels deep pain over every death in the Afghanistan war is political mischief-making at its worst. Presumably they also provided the recording equipment knowing that GB would phone to personally talk to the mother, and doubtless they primed her with a few questions too. Oddly enough I don’t think it is designed to boost circulation, it’s just symptomatic of the Sun’s generally low standard of gutter journalism (or should that be high standards of gutter journalism? You know what I mean!)

  • Trickie Dickie

    writing as a father who has lost his 18 year old son 3 years ago, I know that grief is hard and difficult. It can make you think feel and act in ways you later would regret. I hope Mrs Janes will oneday see the letter from MR Brown for what it is…a heart felt letter of condolence. If I had a letter like that regardless of my politics i would acknowledge the sincerity and treasure the letter for ever errors or not.I wonder if she got one from Mr Cameron too.
    The Sun has a right to report the way it sees fit to protect the public interest and keep those that govern us honest. They do not have the right to aubuse the grief of a mother for politicalends…shame you Mr Murdoch!
    The rest of your post is something all labour party activists would know and feel as they talk to people around the country Cameron does not have it in the bag and he is not a dead cert.
    Soon the likes of Paxman et al will let loose on them and they will be exposed I just hope it comes sooner than later. Nothing we can do with the largely Murdoch media empire other than dont by the product.

  • Marjorie Smith

    Marjorie Smith see blog http://www.leftwingpolemics.com

    The Sun’s squalid ambush of Gordon Brown, by surreptitiously taping a private conversation between the PM and the mother of the deceased Grenadier Guardsman Jamie Janes deserves the utmost condemnation.

    The exploitation of a mother’s grief for political ends by the Sun is a new low in the conduct of the print media in the UK. This follows the disgraceful treatment of Gordon Brown’s visual disability the day before in the Sun, when Gordon Brown had sent a handwritten letter to Mrs Janes. Poorly written, it may have been, but that’s the very nature of his disability which has been so shamelessly exploited for nefarious political ends by the editorial scum at the Sun.

    This is an outrageous breach of privacy and it should be noted was obviously a set-up by journalists at the Sun, without doubt with the full knowledge of the Editor AND the Chief executive of Murdoch’s News International. This has not beeen Mrs Janes acting alone.

    One future initiative the PM should introduce immediately, is that any private conversation between the PM and a member of the public, should be conducted only on a encrypted phone that is provided (for the duration of the call only) by the cabinet office to the person involved.

    This follows the dreadful coverage of the PM’s “supposed” conduct at the rememberance service at the cenotaph, when he allegedly failed to bow his head in respect, no doubt being more concerned, because of his very poor eyesight, about not falling over when walking backwards downstairs

    The conduct of the right-wing tabloid press over the past few days has been utterly appalling in relation to the Prime Minister’s disabilty and if it was anybody else in public life outside politics, the journalist involved wouldn’t even have started putting pen to paper. This has been a deliberate attempt by editorial teams in each of the right-wing press dictating to their minions what they wanted to see in their papers.

    The Editor of the Sun, Dominic ‘Bizarre’ Mahon, whose only real experience of journalism seems to have been confined to celebrity tittle-tattle (which I suppose makes him a perfect choice as editor of a downmarket tabloid) seems not to care one jot about journalstic ethics generally and the ethics code of the ineffectual Press Complaints Commission in particular.

  • Richard

    “one which has been cut to ten points”…er…that’s not really true Alastair is it? Populus, as I am very sure you are aware, is the pollster that always has the Tories lowest. This particular poll shows Tories and Labour in the same boat with 1% reduction each. Only if you compare it to other pollsters with different weighting and methodology can you draw this spurious conclusion. Once a spinner always a spinner…..

  • Paul

    Sure we all feel sorry for Gordon over this matter but Alastair you know and I know and everyone reading this blog knows that the public are not going to vote for another 5 years of Gordon Brown as PM. It is awful, embarassing, excruciating to watch him still limping on like this. With a different leader I agree we might be in hung parliament territory. But why lambast the Tories for the shortcomings of their leader, when the biggest problem is right at home.

  • Wyrdtimes

    Blame it all on the Sun shall we?

    Nothing to do with Brown under investing in the armed forces for 10 years eh? Nothing to do with the lack of body armour or the lack of helicopters eh? Nothing to do with the strategic and tactical idiocy of putting our troops on the ground in Afghanistan when there have always been better ways to deal with the situation.

    There’s money for banks, quangoes, aid and a thousand other Labour priorities but not enough to equip our armed forces properly for war.

    You disgust me.

  • Chris

    I wish tory voters would stop generalizing the issue, and trying to claim that everyone is as annoyed with Brown as they are.

    For me, it’s a flip of the coin. I’m not convinced which way I will vote. And Cameron is yet to convince me that he will be any better than Brown. In fact it could cost me money to vote him in.

    That’s where I am. As are many

  • ollie

    Omg Brown feels sorry for himself on TV – and he’s winning plaudits for his crass stupidity??

    Are we living in an alternative universe?? Here we have the most desperately cynical man ever to have inhabited the highest office in the land – and Brown’s deliberate and wilfull neglegt of the Armed Forces is brushed over because he feigns sorrow in a press conference.

    It’s utterly pathetic.

    Can’t believe I heard members of the public saying BROWN was the poor victim here, not under resourced troops coming home in coffins.

    Unreal.

  • Charlie

    Napoleon’s observation about “Lucky” Generals comes to mind.

    Poor Brown is so “unlucky” that everything he touches crumbles to dust. The Janes condolence letter fiasco and Brown’s weekend embarrassments at G20 are just the latest examples, no matter how well intentioned he is.

    In fact the situation is so very bad that even if it were to be discovered that Gordon Brown was responsible for inventing sliced bread, he would still get the blame for burning the toast.

  • Jane A

    I can’t believe the Sun capitalising on someone’s situation to wield the knife this way. And I’m uncertain – having heard her on the radio – about the motives of the serviceman’s mother in airing letters and phone calls to the world, but it is intolerable that the Sun are trading on her emotions to articulate their grubby little message.

  • Trevor Malcolm Portsmouth Hampshire

    Just wondered, at what time today have you scheduled an appreciated, wee mention, sending “Happy Birthday” greeting, Wednesday 11 November, to your FaceBook friend and champion, Ms Salma Khan, please?

    Appropriate if we all raise a glass to Ms Khan on her birthday today, so that she will assuredly and deservedly feel like a princess. But I still feel one wee mention from your Good Self, sir, would guarantee she’d squeal out loud with the excitement

    Besides, whereas the rest of us are stuck mouthing “ … Wednesday, Happy Birth, Sal, … hope it’s a good ‘un” – thus demonstrating in prose what illiterate peasants the rest of us really are – by contrast, you, sir, you are blessed with the novelist’s gift in your choice of right words, a command of the Queen’s English, so masterful, even your friend of longstanding, His Lordship, Melvyn Bragg, would be entitled to envy

    Hope you can help your FaceBook friend and champion’s birthday celebrations shift into higher gear, thanks, if so

    Trevor Malcolm

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