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Skirts of coalition strategy showing too much

Posted on 18 June 2010 | 9:06am

I know the new Tory-Lib boys and girls think they are the new masters of the universe, and with a tame media blowing wind into their sails, they are enjoying being in government, and to some extent nobody will blame them for that.

But might I humbly suggest they are letting the skirts of their strategy show a little too much. With the message of cuts well established, the first batch announced under David Laws, the Office for Budget Responsibility up and running and setting out the context, and a Budget due any day now, yesterday’s statement by chief secretary Danny Alexander was as much about further messaging as it was about the detail he was announcing.

Though there will be pain and irritation for some of the projects he was reversing, the figures involved, set against the Budget as a whole, were tiny. It was in part an attempt by Alexander to get noticed, and to ally himself to the cuts message which Nick Clegg wants him to embrace so whole-heartedly, but above all another place to make Labour rather than the coalition the issue.

It is a highly political strategy at a time their main message for the public is that they are taking the difficult decisions required to get the economy back on track. It is an easier one for the Tories to execute because they did at least have a different message and a different approach during the run up to the election, and because the public have an instinctive understanding of the Tories as small state enthusiastic cutters.

But … was in Newsnight that had a clip of Nick Clegg lambasting the Tories during the campaign for the early cuts they would make and the fierce resistance he would put up? Yet look how tamely he rolled over to Cameron and Osborne on the loan to Sheffield Forgemasters. And look how eagerly Alexander stepped in to do Osborne’s dirty work.

I was pleased to see David Miliband hitting back hard on the notion that these were sound economic decisions as opposed to political positioning. I think Danny would have shown a bit more nous to have left it to George to deal with in the Budget, when a lot more will be going on, than to have sought out this rather odd moment in the spotlight.

The game was all a bit too obvious. And once people see it is a game, in the Tories’ case to justify cuts they always wanted to make, in the Libs’ to justify the near complete reveral of their position on many of these issues, their grumpiness will outweigh even the honeymoon warmth being generated by a media love-in.

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  • Alex

    It is puzzling how keen the LibDems are to front the Tory cuts.

    Chris Huhne on Question Time last night could have been replaced by John Redwood and no difference detected in tone or substance.

  • Phil See

    Good piece – What I want to know Alistair is, if the public “like” this coalition government (which I can’t see, and certainly can’t see it lasting five years) how do they vote for it next time!


  • Danny Kelly

    The Liberal Collaborators show an eagerness for implementation of Tory Policies which must leave their supporters despairing wondering how gullible they were voting Liberal Democrat.

    Danny Alexander will realise that spouting the Tory lines and being associated with the Tories is bad enough in Scotland but to out do Michael Forsyth smacks of political suicide.

    Perhaps when they join the Tories as night follows day the voters will realise that there is only one Party to fight Tory greed and self interest,the Labour Party

  • Steve Dresser

    If I was in Sheffield I’d be personally delighted that I voted Nick Clegg into my constituency, cutting £93m worth of funding, more jobs lost.

    It’s really rather pointless cutting all this government help for business only to end up paying for these people to be on jobseekers and their companies not paying as much tax as they would have done if they were trading and growing.

    Short term is their motto it seems, lets cut it all now, free swimming has gone as well, do the ConDem’s have any strategy anymore?

  • chrisbell

    Strikes me that most of the ConLib policies are based on the ‘I’m alright Jack’ philosophy i.e. Free schools give parents who have the time/skills/useful contacts the option to protect their own but takes precious money out of the shared pot that provides a universal service for all. Where’s the fairness in that? Don’t the libdems realise that this is Tory Thatcherism all over again!

  • s chapman

    AC and your sycophants you just don’t get it do you !!!

    Once the result was a HUNG Parliament a Govt had to be formed – everyone and I mean everyone fairly soon realised the only credible way to Govern and get the UK out of 10 tons of Labour doodoo was a LIB-CON coalition.Stop being so god damn tribal AC and grow up.
    These guys are in politics to get to power so they can make changes for the country they believe are right.You can disagree with policy but stop griping – your lot lost mate.
    The media love-in is based on real change and a different way of connecting…Cameron has real appeal in speaking and real compassion,Danny y/day as Tsy Sec had to do a job that all Tsy Sec would have to do …he is young and new – give him time like any normal person would – berate him or make comment once his established and your arguments sound less like those from a playground.

  • Dalesbred

    We need to save money and we need to save it fast. We have the highest budget deficit of any country in Europe(except of Ireland.) 6 billion pounds of SAVINGS have already been identified, and thats without thinning out of the many layers of management introduced into the civil service by our last Government.

    It’s going to be tough and it’s going to hurt and maybe, just maybe this weird cocktail of new Government, (which to be honest; does not sit easy with me) will stop our annual debt interest payments exceeding what we spend on our schools!

    So dirty work AC, yes! It’s never a nice job clearing up after someone elses mess!

  • Jacquie R

    It’s hard not to feel contempt and disgust for the Lib Dem MPs who have been seduced into betraying their own principles. Not a pretty sight, but I feel sorry for those on the left of the party who must feel very uncomfortable being tarred with the same brush.

    So, to all Lib Dem MPs whose hearts truly beat on the left, why not cross the floor of the house and join the opposition? That is where you will be welcome and where you belong.

  • olli issakainen

    Is the age of spin over? Perhaps not, as in politics you always need to explain and drive through policies.
    David Cameron is a former PR chief and Nick Clegg a former lobbyist. They are well aware of the importance of communications. How well the Downing Street media machine does with cuts may determine the longevity of the coalition.
    PR means managing communication between organizations and public. Public image is important to people, businesses, organizations, programs etc. PR includes crisis management, government affairs, media relations, publicity and even speech-writing.
    PR people must know the trends. They must be able to write clearly, speak clearly and think analytically. They must be able to response to negative accusations and information.
    Publicity means spreading information to increase awareness for products and people.
    PR uses surveys, research and focus groups. Tools include press releases, media kits, brochures and newsletters to get positive press. Target audience is often indentified and then tailored messages used.
    Lobby groups lobby particular interests and try to influence policy and public opinion. Governments can also use PR firms to influence public opinion in order to create positive image.
    Spin means heavily biased portrayal in own favour on event or situation. Spin is creative presentation of facts. Techniques of spin include selective presentation of facts or quotes, non-denial, euphemisms and ambiguity. It is often claimed that politicians use these manipulative tactics.
    In politics one can define one´s opponent and then hope that this will be repeated in media. One can also try to manage language by using apt phrases. Method of communication is also important.
    Andy Coulson is the director of communications at Number 10. Cameron´s policy chief is Steve Hilton. Coulson is not a political propagandist having arrived from celebrity journalism.
    Head of press is Henry Macrory, political spokeswoman Gaby Bertin. They are spads working with civil servants Steve Field (PM´s chief spokesman) and Vickie Sheriff (Downing Street´s head of news). She communicates daily with lobby journalists. It is important to notice that Mr Coulson has left lobby briefings to civil servants!
    Andy Coulson has to liase with rival party´s communications staff. Lena Pietsch speaks for Nick Clegg. The Lib Dems´ communications director is Jonny Oates. Cabinet ministers have own advisers with own communications agenda.
    Gordon Brown said that the age of spin was over. But was the spin that there was no spin?

  • Robert Crosby

    The Liberal Democrats have left themselves completely exposed… Huhne might not have been too thrilled to see the likes of Amanda Platell cosying up to him on Question Time last night but his reaction was, just as Peter Hain pointed out, to spout the limited rhetoric of the Tory Party. I have no difficulty at all with decent, principled individuals uch as David Steel or Charles Kennedy who must surely think that they are now in the wrong party??

  • Sally

    If, as the Tory Govt (I’m very relunctant to call it “the coalition” any more) are saying these cuts on future spending are in the key marginals – I can’t help thinking this must be political suicide for the next election. Or am I just being optimistic or are they spouting untruths.

  • Richard Burnell

    Having watched that dismal display of the talentless leadership contenders on Newsnight, trying to distance themselves from past events, the coalition members will be laughing out loud.

    The faltering style of Harperson at PMQ’s is cringeworthy, and the new leader, whichever one wins, will be lightweight and hopeless.

    You would be better employed in telling them the truth as to their respective performances, and leave the coalition to get on with sweeping up the sh** left behind after the highly successful Brown premiership.

    The centre ground is cleverly fully occupied by the coalition parties and your calling over the fence for defections shows your desperation.

    After your pal Piers defects there is a vacancy to spot talent: you have spent so much time brown nosing the talentless, any aspiration you had is long since dead.

  • Brian Tomkinson

    You have conveniently forgotten, in your mental state of denial whilst trying to re-write history, the words of Liam Byrne, whom you may remember was the Labour Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who left a little note saying:”There is no money”. Face facts for once in your life, Labour wrecked this country’s finances and it is now the duty of others to clear up the mess that you have left.

  • Steve Brundish

    Its only a matter of time before the media will turn on the conservative coalition. I imagine it will be a fairly slow process as many of them have signed up to the idea of a progressive government and will not want too lose face when the Tory right use this once in a generation oppurtunity to shrink the state and give power back to the people IE privete sorry Free schools no doubt with parent direct debits and more health insurance (as the state can no longer afford or be expected to provide all non essential treatments) all this done of course in a fair way not effecting those less well off. In certain circles no doubt the welfare state is an institution that is well passed its sell by date. Clegg is not a great leader he will go down in history as the man who delivered the conservative cust that will do so much damage to the high quality service Labour sepnt so much time and money building.

  • Tricky Dickie

    OBR report was good news for Darling, a vindication of Labour economic policy. The only weapon for Oik was the structural deficit which is well within the managable zone and only because the OBR lowered growth forcasts which in its self is a guess at best and based on the actions being taken by the tories now…..perhaps if Labour were still in power the forecast would still be the same as AD predicted. OBR said that the pledge to halve the deficit within 4 year would have been easily met under Labour.
    For those Tories shouting about interest payments being larger than schools budget….may I point out,1. it was even under the tories and 2. most interest payments on mortgages are larger than most household budgets too. Facts are simple Labour prevented a crisis becoming a full blown depression (at a cost or emergency remortgage) that bill is now being paid. The timescale is the issue. No-one would take out a mortgage (at 350% of personal GDP) and pay it back over 5 years. It is accepted as economic sense to spread payments over a long period to allow for some sort of quality of life. What the Tories are saying is: we must pay back the mortgage and not feed, clothe or educate the children so the parents can afford a villa in the south of France in 6 years time instead of 15. Who wins and who loses the parents or the children?
    Final point why is Cameron allowed to be called the Prime Minister when he is in fact the leader of the coalition, that title is not his at all.

  • Sue Thorne

    Surely why Britain is in so much debt, is because there was a world banking crisis. What would the tories have done if they were in power?

    Also Danny Alexander looks so pleased with himself, what a clever litte chap!

  • Exile

    I confess to having been quite impressed by the coalition agreement. However since then the unjustified spin imparted by Osborne to the OBR report, and the tendency of ministers to make populist decisions that will actually cost more money, deficit or no deficit, makes me wonder.
    Unfortunately Labour is effectively impotent due to their inability to say what THEY would have cut. Opposing every cut Osborne makes may convince the party faithful but won’t wash with most voters.

  • Dave Roberts

    It is interesting that you single out Miliband (D) and his response to the recent coalition announcements, as it is becoming patently clear that he would be the only credible labour leader from the five contenders. I fear for the future of the labour party, and also their ability to provide credible and effective opposition, if any of the other contenders win through.

  • Graham Jones

    That’s precisely how the tories and lib-dems see politics, as a game. While Labour saw it as an opportunity to serve people and help improve their lives, this lot think that rank and title, gives them the right to do whatever they want.
    They have already forgotten the people who voted for them, and the Labour party must continue to speak to those who are disillusioned at their choice. I don’t think people really understood what change they were voting for. All they could see was Gordon, constantly demonised in all walks of the media for nearly two years, up against the air-brushed public school, PR savvy Oxbridge automatons. The diet of anti-Gordon, anti-Labour propaganda wore them down, and Labour were nowhere near aggressive enough on the economy. They have to be now, because opposition can soften a party. Before they know it, they can become yesterdays men and women.
    But look at the talent standing as leader, and we can see people who can be seen as people who can govern. I was all for Ed Balls at one point, but David Milliband has been the most impressive recently. He spoke well on the economy, and has shown he understands all areas of governance.
    I think he became a more rounded politician at the Foreign Office, where he learned a lot about how the world turns, as well as about himself. He has now stated that he wasn’t ready to be PM a few years back, and he may thank Gordon one day for the FO brief. It isn’t about which side of the party you support, it’s about getting re-elected with the right person to connect with all areas of the public. We aren’t Brownites or Blairites anymore, we are Labourites; and must be ready to back the new leader no matter who it may be.

  • Tricky Dickie

    Some posters have cried foul that Labour will not tell them what and how they would cut with care to protect the economy. Why should they? It would serve only for the tories to either copy or deride them. Why should Labour help them out? They didnt exactly lay their cards on the table in the election…did they?
    The rhetoric from the Coalition is laughable now and the Liberals are becoming cartoon characters by the day. How do they seriously think they will be able to look their voters in the eye come the next election.
    I wish the Labour party would stand up and fight back…its becoming a shambles in the commons and the bear baiting of Brown has now turned to fantasy rewrites of history from the Coalition benches.
    I really hope people start to lay into the Libs hard and soon.