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Ashdown spot on about Tories’ Sarah Palin moment

Posted on 11 April 2010 | 12:04pm

What a joy to turn on the BBC this morning and see Michael Howard on the Andrew Marr sofa. More, more, more please.

Looking at twitter it’s clear I was not alone in thinking that the former Tory leader is a good reminder of what Tories are really like as David Cameron poses round the place as being something different, nay ‘pro-gress-ive.’ Yeah right. And all that progressive blue blood was running through his veins five years ago when he was helping to write Nasty Mr Howard’s Nasty Manifesto.

Howard – I saw Rory Bremner do him brilliantly as a Bond vilain recently – was on with Neil Kinnock and Paddy Ashdown for a former leaders’ debate about this week’s current leaders’ debate on TV, which will be an important moment in the campaign.

They were asked how they thought their successors would do and, all of them being loyal party types, they all thought their men would do well. Howard was however the least convincing or credible, said a spokesman for Objective Observation.

Neil made much of GB’s character and resilience and how that quality was required in abundance for the tough times we had been through, and now it will be needed even more as we seek to secure the recovery. I felt it was what we call a ‘nod-along’ point for the fair-minded viewer. Say what you like about GB but my God, he is resilient.

Paddy Ashdown, who I have always liked, and with whom I had a really interesting chat about the political scene at a conference in Germany a few weeks back, had some excellent observations to make on the Tory campaign.

Anyone who has ever heard my standard speech on strategy may have heard me cite my favourite examples of strategic failure. Close to the top of the list is the McCain-Palin moment. John McCain did not exactly articulate it this way but his basic strategy in the US Presidential elections was ‘I am experienced unlike Obama and I am not George Bush.’. Worried by his position with his Republican base, he chose Palin as his running mate. True, she injected excitement into the debate and cheered up his troops. But at one stroke she took away any potency in the inexperience attacks on Obama, and she quickly emerged, political spectrum wise, as George Bush in a skirt.

It was as crass a clash of strategy and tactics as can be imagined and for all the attention she still attracts, the only winner out of it was Obama.

So when Paddy described  the Tories’ sudden reversion to type, spraying round tax promises without a clue as to how to pay for them, as their ‘Sarah Palin moment,’ I found myself having my own nod-along moment.

The main question for this campaign is whether people think Cameron, Osborne et al are ready and able to govern Britain? McCain’s Sarah Palin moment undermined his credibility. I continue to argue, as I have since they made the move in the first place, that the Tories’ National Insurance gambit is having a similar effect, which is why Alistair Darling has moved back to the top of the ‘best Chancellor’ ratings. Roll on the real debates.

The Tories will also be getting a bit jittery that despite firing some of their biggest shots, and despite the more than fair wind given them by the media, they have not moved further ahead.

Deep down there is something that holds back decent fair-minded people from switching to the Tories. We should be grateful to Neil, Paddy and Michael Howard for reminding us why.

*** Buy The Blair Years and help raise cash for Labour

  • Mick

    Would be good to get the public thinking along the lines of ‘Nice try Dave, but we don’t think you’re quite ready to lead us just yet. Come back next time and try again. You may have more experience by then’.

  • Charlie Hall

    What’s all this cosying up to Lib Dems then? First you were tweeting to Charlie Kennedy, now this … ? I agree with you on Howard though. What a throwback and good to remind people Cameron was his sidekick. Also one of the papers today has picture of Cameron as Major’s sidekick in 1992. Just another Tory boy deep down

  • Pauline Gregg

    I think the Tories won on the politics but lost on the economics and there is enough time for that to take the upper hand in this debate. They will have more promises in their manifesto and more phoney ways to pay for them.

  • Alison Milton

    Clegg is emerging as quite an attractive character. Liked his attack on the marriage plans. But the truth is only Brown or Cameron can be PM. I do not warm much to Brown but I would really hate it if Cameron got in. Why can’t people see through him as clearly as I do. I voted Lib Dem last time but I now live in a West Yorks Lab-Tory marginal and will vote Labour

  • K.R.Lohse

    Dear Alistair. It’s always entertaining when you come out for a Spin. Never mind, in 25 day’s time you can put the old banger into a long-awaited retirement and spend more time with your family.

  • Charlie Reynolds

    I understand you were a follower of Steve McLennan?

    Can you explain why you did not comment when he joked about slavery, coffin dodgers and chavs. This is New Labour through and through. No principles, no morals, no policies and no ideas. Just the desire to have power.

    When’s Tony’s next appearance – can’t wait to see the dear leader again. Is he a non-dom by the way?

    You are getting increasingly desperate in your blog. I am not sure what Michael Howard’s relevance is – he is not even an MP is he? Is that the best you can do?

    Pantsdown had ‘an evening with paddy’ event at the town hall in Brum. It was cancelled because almost no one bought tickets. I got an email offering them desperately for £5 per head. What a pompous, arrogant, pious dick he is.

    Do you think any floating voter watching would have been anything but put off everyone after seeing Kinnock, Howard and Ashdown. I’m pretty sure you don’t really….

    I thought you were going to continue talking about Labour putting up taxes?

  • Andrew Harding

    Interesting post. I’ve always felt the Tories lead would diminish – as it’s become increasingly clear they lack actual policies and still hold horrible values (particularly evident in hard times). Cameron is a good PR guy – but look who surrounds him. Osborne, Fox, Grayling, if the Tories don’t win the election it’ll be because Camerons deputies appear to be clueless.

  • Mark Wright

    Cameron’s statement that the £150 marriage tax break being a ‘start’ should send shivers up the spine of all those not living in the 1800’s. What on earth could he be talking about? Seriously.

    Only a week into the campaign and they’re banging on about the importance of marriage being the bedrock of society. That didn’t take long then.

    How wonderful that they are all in nice safe, secure relationships. How magnificent that we can revel in their excellent choice of partners negating even the merest contemplation of a split. And how unfortunate that for those trapped in loveless, violent, abusive marriages for whom separation is the only option will be branded as ‘failures’ and contributors to the decline of our society as a whole by a tax stystem intent on puffing up the already over-puffed chests of ‘those that know best’ in the upper echelons of Tory-dom.

    ***Weird photo op of the day: Nick Clegg and Vince Cable sharing tea and, specifically, hob nobs in his back garden. Bless.

  • Patrick James

    The state of the Conservative campaign at the moment reminds me a bit of a car with a flat battery. You sit in the car using the weak starter motor hoping the engine will fire up, but all that happens is that you use up the last bit of electricity in the battery and the car goes completely dead.

    The Conservatives have used up nearly all the electricity they had in their battery.

    The tiny bit left isn’t enough to start their Quattro.

  • Julia

    Much as I am disappointed in and deeply disilusioned by Labour and the wasted opportunities for radical reform and excessive reliance on spin (yes Alastair I am looking at you!) in the early, heady days when you had so much goodwill, hope and optimism behind you, I am utterly horrifed by the thought of a return to Tory ‘Family Values’ which are so redolent of the Victorians in their sheer hypocrisy, not to mention simply being meaningless soundbites that will barely save pennies, let alone milions of pounds, that I shall have to wearily and unenthusiastically vote Labour again without any real hope of change or improvement. Ah well…..

  • Joseph Bua

    I have to take exception to your description of Sarah Palin as George W. Bush in a skirt.

    As bad as eight years of Bush was for my United States there is nothing that holds more potential for the ruination of this country than these three words: President Sarah Palin.

    And of course, it will never happen. As you might have seen in the straw poll this weekend in New Orleans at the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, Palin’s negatives far outweigh her ability to fill a room with older non-college educated seniors who dislike Black people.

    Her demographic just can grow past that.

  • Kevin Mc

    I completely disagree with the Tory’s marriage tax break proposal however it seems incredibly thick of them from a political perspective not to stick a clause into it that it is only available on anybody’s first marriage. If the point is to incentivise commitment then allowing divorcees (mostly blokes, let’s face it) to remarry and take advantage of the marrital tax break is bloody ridiculous. They could save themselves ‘some’ of the political fallout from single parents if they did something like that.

    All in all I think it’s a crap policy but a good example that the Tory’s don’t seem to have the basic instincts to build whatever moats are necessary around their policies to get them through an election. Hopefully this will crack them as we head nearer to the polling.

  • Chris lancashire

    What is it GB says at PMQs when he’s run out of answers? “No policies, no ideas” Well that certainly applies to this blog. Policy-lite but heavy on unpleasant personal attacks.

  • Matthew Patrick

    A few points that have struck me in recent days/weeks.

    1 – I think you should respond to some of the comments posted on here (if time allows it) because I would like to see some of the moronic retorts knocked back.

    2 – Since when did every political commentator decide to be rude? It seems that the mindset of these people is much like the ‘footballers get paid loads of money so deserve abuse’ one. Members of Parliament, like everybody else, should be treated with respect. Not interrupted. I think, as I believe you recently said, these journalists are trying to make them a keypoint of the election. Quite frankly, I’m getting tired of it being acceptable for MPs to be abused in such a way.

    3 – The media are heavily favouring the Tories, still. Even Tory supporters I know accept this and regularly highlight this to me.

    4 – George Osborne wishing that girl good luck with her job search seemed so false I cringed more than I did during most episodes of the office.

    5 – We can win this election. I’m out canvassing nearly every night and the response is positive. We all need to work hard and make sure that the country doesn’t make a disasterous decision.

    6 – Would love to see you interviewing Cameron/Osborne etc. Real scrutiny as opposed to Titchmarsh – I can dream, can’t I?

    Keep up your excellent blog!