Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

Cameron’s wobble the product of his team saying what their audiences want to hear

Posted on 5 January 2010 | 10:01am

The Tories put a lot of planning into the launch of their New Year campaigning. Big setpiece speeches by the leader, press ads, posters with what look like an airbrushed David Cameron. The slogan ‘things can’t go on like this’  reminded me of their not so successful ‘are you thinking what we’re thinking?’ from the last election. Both will have walked straight out of focus group chattology. But trying to make Cameron sound like a caricature of a cabbie – rewind to his recent elf’n’safety speech – is not going to work. ‘Fings can’t go on like this …’ It is just one more way of saying ‘time for a change’ which is pretty much what their strategy amounts to.

But no matter how much planning you do, unless you have thought through the answers to all the obvious questions you’re going to face, then the plans can quickly come unstuck.

The Tories have been talking in vague, waffly terms about recognising marriage within the tax system for ages. They have also been avoiding real scrutiny for ages. But it was always going to come one day. You can’t just walk into power because the other lot have been there a long time. The surprise is not that they fell apart over it yesterday, but that it happened so quickly once the scrutiny began.

It happened because Labour, who do not have the cash for New Year poster and press blitzes, put together a very old-fashioned type of document based on the old-fashioned idea that if an opposition politician tells an audience of his or her intentions, then the other side are entitled to cost them.

And having produced Cameron’s first wobble of the year with such a simple exercise, Labour must now keep on pressing in the same way. It took time before the Tories’ inheritance tax plans became a liability for Cameron. But it did, because it was not thought through at the strategic level. It took time for the marriage tax pledge to become a problem. But a problem it now is, for the same reason. On that long list published by Alistair Darling yesterday, there will be more problems for the Tories to come.

Gordon Brown could be a bit of a nightmare when he was shadow chancellor, stopping his colleagues from making promises that their various vested interests wanted to hear. But George Osborne should have done the same. Because on the one hand, he and Cameron have the strategic message that they will deal with the deficit more quickly than Labour (slightly confused by their determination to be seen as wanting to spend more on the NHS, but put that to one side). On the other hand, speak to anyone in any pressure group, voluntary group, cause or campaign, and they’re all being told they will have Tory backing, that their issue is ‘an urgent priority,’ often that it is ‘the Number 1 priority,’ that ‘if it needs money we have to find it,’ or ‘it is not so much about money as political will’. But it all adds up to the same thing. Telling people with their eyes on one part of the picture that they can have what they want, not caring too much about the bigger picture that is someone else’s responsibility. Namely Cameron and Osborne.

All Alistair Darling did yesterday was to remind them there is a big picture and it is their big responsibility. That means knowing all the questions, and having the answers.

If they got such an obvious one wrong, there could be a few more such wobbles between now and polling day. .

  • Quietzapple

    Well Mr Chameleon, “There you go again . . . “

  • Cassie Hall

    Saw the Tory spokesman on Newsnight. You know you’re in trouble when a junior spokesman is saying ‘what the leader meant to say is…’ I agree they seemed not to have answers to obvious questions

  • Pauline Jowett

    According to one of the papers, the Tories say the poster of Cameron has not been airbrushed, just touched up!

  • Harold Mellor

    The prospect of a Tory government is starting to wake people up a but, but I still worry apathy will be a real problem. I wish we had compulsory voting

  • Quietzapple

    The Lib-Dems pre dickering over what they might/might not do in the event of a Hung Parliament will not attract votes to them I feel.

    More floaters would like to decide how their vote is cast between Lb & Cons, rather than let Clegg do it in smoke filled corridors.

    Whichever of Cons and Lab which feels the Lib-Dem floaters are more likely to go their way will try this a fair bit my guess, and having some other strategem in progress will also be a factor.

    Chameleon’s poster pic was airbrushed in Photoshop or similar. I suppose he is going for the laddish GQ vote . . . Stressing the absence of tie is just so in yer face . . .

    And there I was thinking that UKIP were more of a threat to him.

  • Simon Gittins

    Yesterday’s response from Alastair Darling and Labour was laughable.
    This is the same Labour government that is responsible for the financial mess this country is in.
    All Alastair Darling did yesterday was to remind us of the one party we cannot trust when it comes to financial management. No wonder their own party coffers are empty !!

  • Charlie Reynolds

    Fascinating to hear Alistair Darling not ruling out a VAT rise to 20%. Also talking about getting the deficit down faster if he could as a priority. I think that is the biggy from yesterday (see the sensible FT article!!). He actually talks some sense – but Gordy and Balls are in charge so forget sense or honesty. Where are the governments plans on cutting spending? You can’t effectively attack the other side when you have not set out your own £45bn black hole. The Tories are admitting they will raise taxes and cut spending – a party prepared to tell us the truth – no wonder Labour are in shock. The whole strategy seems to be – let’s chuck some of the s**t we have covered ourselves in over the last 12 years and hopefully everyone will think we are all as bad as each other.

    Any pressure group/voluntary group etc – sounds a little bit like clutching at straws here.

    Can anyone argue against the claim that the Tories are now the party of the NHS – Labour are not guaranteeing spending here. What a mess Labour have made of this!

    Only a week to go – hope you are looking forward to it….

  • olli issakainen

    A leader must lead, not just slavishly follow the latest opinion polls.
    The Tories have placed all their bets on faster, deeper spending cuts. They believe this will restore growth and give money to mend the “broken society”. If their strategy fails, they will lose the election. By the way, what´s the hurry? Do they believe that the end of world is near on December 21, 2012?
    Gordon Brown said that if you want to halve the deficit more and more quickly you will hold Britain in recession longer.
    Labour does not need costly ad campaigns to win. All Labour needs to do is simply tell the truth. Labour is vastly superior in handling the economy in this tricky situation. Had Gordon Brown and Labour not been in power during the recession, banks might have collapsed and people might have lost their savings. Surely the voters do not want any of this?
    People will vote with their wallets on polling day. It´s the economy!
    British public also knows well that Labour will safeguard public services better, despite the inevitable cuts in some departments.
    There is so much uncertainity surrounding David Cameron and the Tories that the voters will choose the experienced international statesman Gordon Brown and the proven record of Labour.
    The 2010 general election is not Callaghan´s “sea-change” election. It does matter what Labour does and what its representatives say. Even if it were a one, the shift should be to left as the financial crisis clearly showed that more regulation and state control is needed.

  • Jane A

    Tories the party of the NHS? I beg to differ.

    I’ve been reading the Tory “draft” manifesto for health/the NHS. Its 12 pages long. (Weighty.) Pages 1 and 3 are pictures. Pages 11 and 12 are blank. There is an Foreword, in really big font, and then an intro to the main content. The main content finally splutters into life on pages 8, 9 and 10. And thats it, finish.

    *Massive* pic of Dave, though.

  • Rory

    Given Tony Blair’s various attempts at trying to pass off Estuary English as his own way of speaking, it’s a bit rich for his former right hand man to have a go at Cameron for the same thing.

    And why the Alan Partridge style photo on the home page of this blog?

  • Patrick James

    David Cameron’s wobble on the tax deduction for married couples reveals to me that the Conservatives must not have worked out their financial strategy even for themselves. I would have thought that by now they should have developed a clear picture of what they will be ring fencing or what they will be cutting for their own knowledge so they can be consistent and prevent things like that going wrong.

    There was also something about it which added to my belief that David Cameron is not really leading the Conservative Party. He is more of a front person for a group of very wealthy individuals. I don’t know much about the Conservative Party so I don’t know its makeup at the top at all.

    After Cameron had described the marriage tax deduction as more of an aspiration than a promise, some people at HQ must have said, no, you can’t do that, you’ll have to recant.

    So, who is in charge?

    As an aside I really don’t like the idea of tax deductions for married people. I know families where the parents are not married and they seem to be very happy that way, so why should they be disadvantaged in this way?

  • Peter Robertson

    I love hearing these Tories banging on about the financial mess that Labour got us in. Opinion on the subject seems to be divided; everyone seems to know that we have suffered a world wide recession, the Tories think it was all Gordon Brown’s fault. As for their fallback position, the old ‘we would have handled it better than them’ stance, I still lie in bed at night quivering at the prospect of Cameron’s ‘lets do nothing and see what happens approach’ when the banks got in to trouble. Let’s all pray to God that him and his posh friends don’t get the chance to govern!!