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More rebuttal on book interview headlines – and reminder to Labour re ‘mess we inherited’ rebuttal on economy

Posted on 9 September 2013 | 7:09am

Another day, another perfectly fair, accurately quoted interview, this time in the Daily Telegraph, with Celia Walden. There are various reasons why I said ‘yes’ when she asked to do the piece. First, because I always liked her and I always liked her Dad, former Tory MP George Walden. Second, and most importantly because after she read my last novel, Maya, she told me she found it uncanny how I got inside women’s heads when writing, which first sparked the thought of writing as a woman, as I do in My Name Is. And third, because how can feel anything but sympathy and understanding for someone who is married, 24 hours a day, to Piers Morgan?

So ‘yes’ it was and we sat and chatted for a fair old time, lots on the book, lots on my old boozing days, a fair bit on politics and Syria and Iraq in particular, and though I might have liked more on the book and less on the politics, I have no quibble with the way she has written it all up. But what is it with headline writers? I showed the headline – ‘Surely, people can do better than we did’ – to Fiona, and asked her what she thought it meant? She looked surprised, knowing – as Decca Aitkenhead pointed out in the Guardian on Saturday in another nice but lazily headlined piece – how hard I find it to criticise the record of the last Labour government. ‘I would say it says you think Tony’s government wasn’t up to much.’

Now within the piece there is actually a line, with quotes to back it up, that says how vehemently I defend TB and his record, and if you read carefully, I think it is fairly clear what I am saying when I say ‘surely people can do better than we did.’ The ‘we’ is not TB et al, but me, Peter Mandelson, Philip Gould alas no longer with us, namely those of us on the comms and strategy side who are from time to time mentioned as being what Ed Miliband needs to sharpen up his chances of winning the next election. I made the point that as it is ten years since I left the frontline of politics full-time, and as the world of media and comms has changed so quickly, surely there are other younger people coming through who can do better than we would. So … long-winded way of saying, nice piece, for which thanks, and thanks for echoing Decca’s comments about the book, but I am certainly not saying this government could do a better job than TB’s, because they can’t and they’re not.

Back on the Telegraph front page, and in most of the right wing media, George Osborne was getting big licks for trails of a speech he is making today claiming that he has been vindicated in his handling of the economy.

I was wondering when I did The Guardian interview when Osborne would start up with his claims to have turned things around, which is why I said this … ‘The Conservatives have very, very successfully managed to persuade the public of a complete lie – this line, “the mess we’ve inherited” – and we’ve allowed them to. What it means is that they only need a fairly slim recovery to say: “We’ve done our job.” They haven’t done their job, they’ve not done what they said they would, they haven’t fixed the economy, and we had a decade of pretty good growth and prosperity that ended badly because of an international crisis, which Gordon actually handled bloody well. But we’ve allowed that “mess we’ve inherited” to become a given because we haven’t wanted to defend the record, and that’s a strategic error.’

Is it recoverable? asked Decca Aitkenhead. ‘It’s recoverable provided we recognise that that needs to be done. But too many people in the Labour party don’t want to do that. Britain was not a mess when Cameron took over. The LSE Growth Commission has just said Britain was no worse-prepared for the crisis than anyone else, and had an economic success story to tell. But we don’t tell it.’

With Osborne and David Cameron now moving into a new stage of pre-election campaigning on the economy, this is as good a time as any for Labour to start rebutting properly ‘the mess we inherited’ line of attack so that they are then properly heard when talking about the future.

For those unaware of the LSE Growth Commission Report I referred to, here is the blog I did on it a few weeks ago. And here is the one I did before Professor Vernon Bogdanor had drawn my attention to it.

Now I await the arrival of an interviewer from the Independent. Memo to sub-editor charged with writing the headline – a free signed copy of My Name Is will be yours is the headline a) reflects what I say and b) reflects what the piece says.

Rebuttal over. But I hope Labour’s rebuttal is active and vigorous today. Because it matters so much more, not least to the millions of people who must be hearing and reading headlines about this economic ‘recovery’ and as they struggle with their family finances, asking ‘has this got anything to do with me?’

  • Michele

    Actual writers can have little to do with headlines, and sometimes seem to want little to do with the actual copy., no responsibility any more for conveying facts rather than opinions, they toe the party line of their bosses’ owners, passing on what they’ve been told by anybody that happens to have a grudge, stuff is in quotes and never backed up by confirmation that the quote has been checked and is true. Everything has sunk to varieties of the Wail.

    How did it happen that jounalists became either gossip mongers or exploited wannabe-warriors?

    It’s all got worse since t’net and the 24/7 need to catch attention and I’m afraid one of the most gross example of pseudo-heroics is that which happened on the Guardian last month. I wonder how many people are still rubbing their bruises and dreading what is still to come out about that.

  • Mark Wright

    The “better than we did line” was, I’m sure, too good to resist! You let your guard down!!!

    I actually think that line, no matter how misinterpreted, shows humility. The Labour record speaks for itself. Besides, do Telegraph readers skim through only reading the headlines? It’s an intriguing comment that will draw people into reading the whole piece.

    Yes, it’s still galling hearing Osborne trotting out the ‘mess we inherited’ mantra for the umpteenth time this morning.

    The biggest strategic mistake Labour made in 2010 was faffing around for months on a leadership campaign allowing the coalition an open field upon which to frame the tone of debate for the next parliament.

    The other mistake, I’m guessing not by design, was to not retain Alistair Darling as Shadow Chancellor. Out of all the GB cabinet it is perhaps Darling who retained the most credibility being generally perceived as a politician of integrity and stoicism. He was also right about the economy (against the party line at the time) and was suitably distanced from GB to be seen as his own man. He also left the economy in a state of growth.

    I can’t think of anybody better to give Osborne a history lesson in the run up to 2015.

    • Michele

      I agree re the headline, I don’t find it ‘confessional’ (of what?) but it does depend how objective one is and how exploitative an.other might be (or pretend to be as we all have the tendency).

      I don’t think Labour has been defending itself well enough in opposition, so many seem to have lain down like cows chewing the cud. There’s definitely been a defeatist air since the start of ’11 …..

      we HAVE to remember who gave Cameron an unbeatable majority, who was BOUGHT, WRAPPED and OWNED by the Cabinet roles dnagled for such a disproportionate number of such a small total of Lib-pseudo-democrats.

      There has been so little likelihood of Labour ever winning in a vote and Clegg has to be called to account. I really wish there were minutes available of all those lovely ickle meetings over THAT weekend post-election ’10.

      Cameron is not displaying respect for his ‘deputy’ (LOL), he is showing very appropriate gratitude.

      I am SURE that most of the people that switched their vote to Clegg in ’10 did so because of his promise to vote alongside whichever party they agreed with, topic by topic and week by week.

      That sounded like individualism and honest ingenuous politics.

      What happened was bribery, those voters and other Ld MPs not being able to disagree with Clegg publicly, not until now.

      A big ‘Well done’ to Sarah Teather for her (albeit belated) rejection of his having compromised the party, his having taken the decision to link up with Cam without consulting fellow MPs and a huge spit in the eye to the 15 or so that LOST extant Libdem seats.

      HoC 2010
      Conservative 307
      Liberal Democrat 57 = 364

      Labour 258
      Democratic Unionist Party 8
      Scottish National Party 6
      Others 14 = 286

      My groupings don’t denote DUP and SNP and Others being alongside Labour, simply denote there’d have been little point anyway even on issues they would have been.
      I wonder whether Clegg did the numbers during those meetings, did he actually know he was effectively removing democracy?

      It’s not been what voters voted for and one example of how defeatist Labour has been is the number of times the coalick have got away with the ‘There’s no money left’ jibe, ascribing it to lack of concern and pretending it showed irresponsibility. It was described early on as being the traditional hand over Welcome note to a new minister, one joshing about what s/he would have to get used to hearing from their Civil Servants.

      Irresponsible or objective?
      As it’s turned out it’s not even a case of no money ‘left’, it’s a case of no money to start with (from people that know the price of everything but the value and quality of nothing).

      • Michele

        Talking to myself ….. 😉
        Badly worded para re Ms Teather, it shouldn’t suggest she’d have disagreed with Clegg re the join up. She showed she was more than willing re that but well done re her reaction to more-current matters.

    • GeoffG

      I have to agree totally that the “mess we inherited” line needs to be rebutted. More important now though is rebutting the new accusation that two quarters of recovery means that Ed Balls has been wrong about the need for “Plan B”. Economies are cyclical so we were bound to see a turnaround eventually. We should remind everyone that the economy had returned to growth before Labour left office, growth that was reversed by excessive austerity. We have therefore had “THREE WASTED YEARS” during which the lost growth has generated higher deficits. I know our economic arguments are less simplistic than Osborne’s but surely we could use a mantra like “Three wasted years”.
      We left the field open after leaving office for the coalition to cement the “mess we inherited” line; let’s not let them get away with this new line.

  • KDouglas

    A case of, never mind the misrepresentation, feel the bias.

    You may have left full-time comms ten years ago, but you still know how to undermine a journalist. That photo of Decca Aitkenhead you tweeted was probably nicely aimed.

  • Ehtch

    I found it easy to be on the same insaned wavelength as the opposite sex, realising each we are quite barking day to day, but in our different sex hormoned ways. It is remarkable how you find yourself how you are rooted by just simple genetics. I am remarkably alike in actions as two grandparents, split – my father’s father, and my mother’s mother, the later was my hero, we got on well, and I am a lot like her in spiritual nature. She was magical – all the men on her street thought she was some incredible wise nymph, and their wives agreed and didn’t mind that adulation – a higher sensitive spirit I suppose we could describe it as.

    As for Cameron/Osborne, I don’t want to spoil and pollute what I just said, so I will leave that for now, if you don’t mind.

    Christ, just wrote that flying by the seat of my panties. That should be the start of some Charles Dickens type book, apart from the Cameron/Osborne fanny arsed bit at the end.

  • Ehtch

    I’ll write a quick eight lined poem, for here Alastair, hope you don’t mind, will do my best, here goes, flying seat etc…

    We adventure or do we follow.
    we ask ourselves at times.
    Pride does ask us that at times,
    strolling through our primes.

    Innocence or stupid we do ask,
    myself coming to this fair?
    Not know what is behind eyes,
    ending just going spare.

    For two minutes work, I think that is not too bad. Best Alastair.


    • Ehtch

      Might as well post a song for above, make a good job of it, done and dusted, as I tend to do, us seeking, as we do tend to do, within our mortal coil long springed allowed, as far as it reaches, for us,

  • mightymark

    Labour got its whole post election positioning and strategy wrong. Knowing it was going to lose, the party should first have recognised the uncertain election result as a part vindication of its economic policy (i.e. the electorate were unconvinced by the other lot) and had the courage to defend it. Gordon had to go as he was extremely unpopular but as Alistair says Darling should have hung around as the best defender of Labour’s policy. A better leader than EdM (preferably his brother) should have been put in place and an iron discipline applied to the party which would have defended its economic record, dealt ruthlessly with the splits and contradictions of the coaltion (“the nation needs leadership while they are sqabbling about PR”” – that sort of thing) and anticipated some economic recovery by e.g. showing how little of it was due to Government policy and asking when austerity would end (the last days of the 1945-51 Labour government provide an object lesson in a government too wedded to austerity).

  • specific

    Talking of rebutting the Tory lies….

    Back in 2011 I posted the following idea on this site.

    I also sent it to the websites of Ed Miliband, Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper.

    Totally ignored. Kinda frustrating.

    I still think if we’d done something like this then we might stand a chance of not losing in 2015. But I think it’s too late now.

    “A lot of people are now wise to the ‘deficit all Labour’s fault’ mantra. But unfortunately a lot of people are still buying It and I think it will continue to be immensely damaging until Labour find some effective way of striking back when the accusation is made.

    It seems to me that a huge part of the problem is the fact that the situation is so complicated and multifaceted. In a Newsnight or Question Time situation, for example, a Labour spokesman, when challenged with “Labour’s deficit”, will want to answer in several different ways at once. “The crisis came from the USA.” “The Tories would not have regulated either.” “Anyway, we acted promptly and saved the economy”. No one answer tells the whole story – and in the context of a modern media confrontation, any lengthy response starts to sound like wordy bluster.

    Here is a possible solution. The Labour Party holds a big press conference, with as much publicity as it can scrape together. The purpose is once and for all to draw attention to how childish, how intellectually empty and how maliciously misleading it is for the Tories and Liberals to carry on with their false description of economic events.

    And they do it by making a big noise. By launching, with fanfares, impressive graphics and dancing girls if necessary, a specific document with a specific title which lays out the situation in a clear and undeniable way.

    This could be the document. It could be called:

    “5 Points of Clarification on the Economic Crisis”

    1. There was no political fuss about Britain’s deficit up to the time of the toxic debt crisis. This can only mean that it was universally considered that the deficit was at an acceptable and sustainable level relative to the performance of the economy at the time.

    2. The toxic debt crisis originated in the USA and the ensuing economic disaster was worldwide. No-one could possibly say the crisis was caused by the Labour government.

    3. Labour’s bank regulation policies were all supported by the Tories – in fact they would have regulated less, not more. The deficit would therefore still have happened if the Tories had been in power.

    4. Labour’s handling of the crisis is universally acknowledged to have been inspired. They did the right things and saved the country and possibly the world from even worse disaster. These measures were opposed by the Tories.

    5. Labour’s policies in their last quarter in office meant the deficit was not as bad as expected, unemployment not as bad as expected and economic growth better than expected. It is only since the Coalition came to power that the economy has slowed again.

    If such a document could be launched in a big enough way, and be worded well enough to be pretty much clear and undeniable, things would be a lot easier in future. Any time any Tory or Liberal came up with the glib putdown of “Labour’s deficit”, for example, all the Labour spokesman would have to do would be to say “Well, that’s nonsense – haven’t you read the Five Points?” or “Which of the Five Points do you disagree with?”

    What I’m saying is that the phrase “The Five Points” could become shorthand for the whole argument, just as “Labour’s deficit” has become shorthand for the whole attack.

    It may not end the damage once and for all, but it would certainly help”

  • Michele

    Unemployment down?
    Do they actually mean engineered?

    I don’t know, perhaps someone else does, are all the people on zero hours ‘contracts’ actually counted as employed, are they shifted off unemployment counts and regular payments on to some means-tested other benefit outside of unemployment figures and for which they have to apply, week by week with yet more forms according to how many hours they worked and receive top-ups some time after the week affected by SOME but not enough pay?

    • mightymark

      No need to stop at zero hours contracts. What of those who have of necessity, taken part time jobs but want full time ones paying a living wage. I’ll bet anyone taking a PT job counts as a full “1” of the unemployment figures.

      • Michele

        Oh for sure.
        I’m wondering if there have been sweeteners to employers.
        I doubt there are a million companies where just a few more hours per week from just one newbie are needed. Far more likely it’s more a case of hiring two people instead of one or three instead of two etc.
        That means more IT/paperwork for companies re pay and refs and time is money ……

        Perhaps the sweetener is as simple as ‘take two/three people on trial and make the best one permanent and shove the othes after six weeks’ (or however long it is that means someone has to make a fresh claim) and we’ll bung you a special tax code.

        Nasty cynic? Me????


        Just listened to the fab ‘More or Less’ and heard how figures are manipulated month by month (which more or less correlates – or doesn’t 😉 with what I posted recently about the fudging of monthly figures by virtue of varying the ‘values’ used ……
        Not on iplayer till Sunday though

  • Ehtch

    Alastair, posted a few more joke comments on this vid just, hope you find it funny, Malcolm Tucker the Effer, rumour has it he was based on you Alastair – don’t really know why…

    Hope you like what I posted there – I am yippitydodah on YT by the way, and I am top upthumber there on this vid! oh feck… Banging on about Daleks – don’t ask Alastair, no idea how it descended to that, my goodness sakes!

    OH YES OF COURSE, Tucker is the new Dr Who of course – Daleks? I shit ’em!