Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

Public will tire very quickly of coalition emotionalism. They should learn from downside of TB-GBery

Posted on 10 May 2011 | 6:05am

One of the most debilitating aspects of divisions in government is the emotional energy they absorb.

Whilst I can and regularly do make the case that between them Tony Blair and Gordon Brown achieved a huge amount together, and whilst I can equally make the case that when Peter Mandelson and I were working together well we managed to make a lot happen, any careful, or even loose, reading of my diaries makes clear that way too much energy was spent on dealing with frictions, mild differences of opinion, and personality spats.

We were not helped in this by a media that was changing fast, and one of whose major changes was a preference for personality stories over policy stories.

One year into the coalition, ministers would do well to reflect on the above. Because any careful, or indeed loose, reading of the newspapers shows that a new prism is developing for the reporting of politics … replacing Prism 1 the ‘coalition working together to sort out Labour’s mess’ (sic) a new Prism 2 is developing – ‘working separately to re-establish our own identity.’

I have just flicked through the Labour Party’s morning media brief. Story upon story, column upon column, have at their heart the narrative of a fast changing relationship between the Tories and the Lib Dems. Regular signs too now of divisions within the Lib Dems.

It is clear that too many ministers and MPs think the public care about their emotional disposition towards each other. They don’t. Where the coalition has been right in regard to Prism 1 is that the public want them to work together to try to solve some of the country’s problems.

Where they are absolutely wrong with regard to Prism 2 is in thinking the public want a running commentary on how David and Nick are getting on, whether Danny is managing to inject a bit of Lib Demmery into George, whether Chris and Vince are on the same page. Nor do they want the debate on the NHS reforms to centre on whether they are good or bad for the Lib Dems — the only question is are they good or bad for the NHS?

There is a point in my diaries where I complain to TB that I can’t be bothered with all the ’emotionalism’ of dealing with fractious political relationships. There was an upside to TB-GBery. But the downsides were significant. I have a feeling the coalition are learning few of the lessons of what went well, and even fewer of what went badly.

But they should be warned that the public will tire of the soap operatic emotionalism very quickly, and they would do well to stop feeding it quite so assiduously. The media will make enough of the differences on their own, without all the help they are clearly getting the whole time.

  • ambrosian

    Whilst it’s true that the electorate seem to punish parties and governments that appear divided, I’m not sure it’s true that people aren’t interested in personalities and rows. What you are saying rather echoes Tony Benn’s past assertions that “the people at home” are interested in “the issues” not personalities. Well, only up to a point. Firstly, most people have only a minimal interest in politics. Secondly, if people are so obsessed with personalities in other spheres like entertainment and sport, why would they not be interested in the personality, soap opera aspect of politics?I think people can accept, or even admire, a degree of emotionalism where people have sharply conflicting views and passionate feelings. What really angers them are lies, betrayal, double standards, hypocrisy and opportunism, or the perception of any of these whether fairly or not.

  • Richard

    Blair and Brown were supposed to be members of the same party. The coalition is of diaparate parties.

    PS. Brown’s grumpy moody disloyalty should have had him sacked by Blair. The fortunes of the party would have been very different if Blair had completed an orderly handover to a worthy successor.

  • Duncan Phipp-MacIntyre

    So Nick the Lush must cease the gush – such a calamity to clamp the Clegg and Dave the darling must ditch the diatribe of disasters inherited.
    The great cyclist Lance Armstrong wrote “it’s not about the bike” –
    so it is not about the coalition or inherited woes – time for delivery.

  • Chris W Drew

    You knock the media for ‘ a preference for personality stories over policy stories.’

    With your CV , you – of all people – know that, sad though this is, it’s human drama that sells papers and grabs attention.

    If papers and TV are to up their game on this, how do we firstly get the great british public to up its game by supporting the media that focus primarily on issues?

  • Olli Issakainen

    The Tory-led government is sorting out mess left by Labour?
    This must be a joke of a century. Labour saved Britain from depression after the deregulation introduced by the Tories in the 1980s caused the financial crisis and recession.
    And Britain´s economy is in need of rebalancing because the Tories destroyed much of the traditional manufacturing in the 1980s. The Tories started the financialisation of the economy.
    When is David Cameron going to apologize for causing this mess?
    Labour left behind an economy growing at an annual rate of 4% with deficit £10bn lower than forecast. According to National Audit Office report it was right to bail out banks. Gordon Brown´s Keynesian response to the crisis (fiscal stimulus, quantitative easing, bank nationalisations) is universally acknowledged to have been right. Other countries followed Britain´s example.
    So much for the “mess”!
    But in only six months George Osborne managed to bring the economy to a standstill. All this before the ideological cuts and tax rises which will make the situation even worse.
    Consumer confidence is down. Banks are not lending. Businesses are not investing.
    Slower growth makes it harder to get the deficit down.
    NIESR says it will not be before 2013 that the economy will return to 2008 levels.
    Targets for the deficit reduction will be missed. Mr Osborne will have to borrow at least £46bn more than expected.
    It seems that the economy will grow only 1.4% this year. For Mr Osborne´s plans to work growth of over 3% is needed. In order to lower unemployment, growth of 2.5% is needed because of increased productivity and improved technology.
    Austerity is not working!
    Service sector growth is slowing down. Construction and manufacturing are also slowing.
    Government´s austerity plans are risking the recovery.
    The Tory-led government is relying on monetary policy to stimulate private sector recovery. It is concentrating on the supply side. But the problem is insufficient demand.
    The fault lies with George Osborne.
    Neoliberalism is once again assaulting the fundamental democratic principle of economic governance in pursuit of common good.
    Governments and media are trying to legitimise destruction of the postwar social contract. Diagnosis and prescription is presented as an objective truth with no alternative.
    Politics is being turned for a market-place for elites with no participation from public.
    Experts are imposing a culture of fear.
    Struggle against neoliberal austerity is a fight for democracy.
    Political right is destroying middle classes and creating a society which consists of the super-rich and the others.
    New forms of socialism are now needed to meet people´s needs and social justice. Labour must come up with a new economic model based on fairness. Democracy must be separated from neoliberal capitalism.
    Neoliberalism created the “mess” – not Labour. The Tories started the neoliberal hegemony in the 1980s.
    Greece will soon go bust. We will have a new, even worse financial crisis soon. With interest rates already at low level and governments burdened with debt, will the world´s financial system survive this time?

  • Robert

    You are right.

    A better way forward is for the Tory led coalition to explain to the voters how their policies help us all sleep soundly at night. Theresa May, for example, after headlines appear:

    “Known drug dealer outside school gates sent arrest warrant in the post.”

    “My granny’s mugger has ignored his postal arrest warrants.”

    “Dear Mr Bin Laden, now that we know where you live would you be so kind as to come to Horseferry Road Magistrates Court or, should it have been closed as part of our ongoing efforts to streamline the British justice system, another magistrates court of convenience to yourself……”

    Surely part of the deterrance of the law, in the minds of those of us who consider ourselves law abiding, is distaste for the process imposed if we flout it?

    A Labour home secretary would have been flayed alive for such a policy.

  • Anonymous

    I think people are more interested in the personalities and the spats than you would like to think. That won’t change – and the 24-hour media and plethora of commentators just wind it up, to be consumed gleefully by those who don’t care so much about the issues but love the soap opera. To be honest, those of us who do care about the issues enjoy the soap opera as well – especially when the protagonists are on the other side.

    In the early days at least TB and GB were reasonably successful in hiding their differences, helped by you, of course. But it is really true, and this is the bit that hurts most, that the differences were real, and got massively in the way of the work, which would have had even better results if the personal differences weren’t there.

    I think what we’re seeing with Clegg and Cameron is synthetic differences, manufactured for the sake of their respective parties and less dangerous to what they want to achieve.

    What really bothers me is that even now, Labour still hasn’t got a credible opposition narative. Or, I’m afraid, a credible leader, however nice and clever he is.

  • Ehtch

    With the media, Alastair, Daily Mail were the main shite-stirrers. Numbnut paper it is, to feed to the small-minded comfortable tory masses in certain parts of our wonderful kingdom. The way Daily Mail picks on new successful people from the regions of our country makes me puke. Song, quite amusing, which I know have posted before.

  • SG

    Wow – what planet do you live on. Of course the economy is in a mess, leading economists and politicians of all parties agree on this. Some of your assertions are laughable.
    If the Tories, as you state, are responsible for this mess, which clowns have just had 13 in years in which to put things right ?

  • Dave Simons


    Allow me to offer my modest knowledge.I read Middle English when I was at college, so alliteration to me is not news -I also read Hopkins as well as Ted Hughes. ‘Emotional energy’ shouts out for verseand what you’re demanding might be for the worse.Delivery might be a horror story – it usually is when the author’s a Tory.Turning round Labour with Ed at the headis going to be hard work, though easily said,but to clip the Clegg and ditch the Davewould surely be worth the stress we’d save?

  • Dave Simons

    I’m all for free verse but not on this occasion! The above should be formatted like this.


    Allow me to offer my modest knowledge.I read Middle English when I was at college, so alliteration to me is not news -I also read Hopkins as well as Ted Hughes. ‘Emotional energy’ shouts out for verseand what you’re demanding might be for the worse.Delivery might be a horror story – it usually is when the author’s a Tory.Turning round Labour with Ed at the headis going to be hard work, though easily said,but to clip the Clegg and ditch the Davewould surely be worth the stress we’d save?

  • Yonks

    I quote ”
    governments burdened with debt” this is simply proof of the fact that everyone else acknowledges except you, Labour ruined the economy GET IT? You want to rack up more debt and yet you yourself have said it’s a burden!
    For goodness sake, why do you keep writing such drivel even as a Labour supporter?

  • Ehtch

    A Daily Mail antichrist that I like, since seeing pop up on Celebrity Big Brother – reminds me of my Redhill daughter, a bit.
    Top drawer.

  • Richard

    Armstrong wrote “it’s not about the bike” should have read : “it’s
    all about the class of the “Fuel” “.

    doubts Dave’s dalliance with Deputy,

    Clegg conned electorate, cheats cannot
    keep coalition contempt concealed

  • ronnie

    We have to face the fact that whatever happens between Cameron and Clegg, the Tories are in no trouble at all.

    Why? Because the awful truth is that they have no opposition whatsoever.

    I watch the Labour party with despair. For petty and outdated reasons, it turned its back on a true statesman and ended up with a nice wellmeaning guy who just can’t cut it.

    But the thing that drives me crazy is this. Whenever there’s a discussion on TV and radio (cf Andy Burnam on QT last week) and a sneering Tory or Liberal plays the ‘Labour’s deficit – our duty to save the country from the disaster we inherited’ card, the Labour guy just sucks it up and doesn’t deny it. So the implication to the public is that Labour believe it too!

    What are they thinking of? The constant undenied repetition of this lie (subtly enabled by the BBC) means that it has now become accepted as the factual truth by most of the public.

    Every time this was said it needed to be angrily rebutted. But they didn’t do it and now I think it’s too late. It’s gone down in history as an accepted fact.

    It’s like the ‘illegal war’ accusation. Every time that was made on air, the Labour spokesman (Peter Hain was especially guilty of this) needed to come out fighting and say ‘actually it’s factually incorrect to call the invasion illegal. All legal avenues were pursued and despite disagreements over the interpretation of the UN resolutions, until challenged and found illegal in a court of law, you mustn’t call it illegal’.

    Again this was facilitated by the BBC, who allowed the accusation to be made even though any other unqualified accusation of unproven illegality in any other field would have been pounced on.

    Anyway – same result. Labour was supine, didn’t stand up and defend itself and acted as if it too believed the accusation was true. And now, it’s accepted as fact by the majority of the public.

    I wish I could see some way that it was going to get better but I’m afraid I can’t.

  • On the money AC, even as Tory I see the ghost of the Blair/Brown years developing, but in the context of Conservative/Lib Dems. No. 10 should order your first volume of your Diaries, shows how the fiction of being united works, better than a PR disaster of different statements from within the Government. But what about Ed Miliband, he needs the Lib Dems and Conservatives in Scotland to work with him, without Scotland there will never be a majority Labour Government Again! Independent Scotland would it be that bad?

  • Janete

    ‘Labour ruined the economy ‘ Please explain this popular Tory assertion.

    Did they spend too much before the banking crisis hit? If so, why did Cameron and Osborne wholeheartedly support Labour’s spending plans?

    Gordon Brown acknowledges under-regulation of the banks but Tories wanted LESS regulation.

    Was Gordon Brown wrong then to bail out the banks? Osborne obviously doesn’t think so as he has put a further £6 billion into Ireland to protect our banking investments there.

  • Dave Simons

    OK – I give up. It’s supposed to be rhyming couplets but obviously it’s going to keep turning out as prose. Use your imagination, prosodists!

  • Ehtch

    Gwyn Thomas, when studying at St Edmonds College, Oxford, described conversations with his landlady there as talking to someone with their head stuffed full of Daily Mails, especially on various miners strikes.

  • Yonks

    Ok Janete explain this comment to me:
    “Labour saved Britain from depression after the deregulation introduced by the Tories in the 1980s caused the financial crisis and recession.”
    Labour was in power for 13 years and what have we to thank them for? Diddly squat except a huge burden of debt either from supporting the banks or their stupid expansion of PPI; it would be cheaper going to the corner money lenders!
    Gordon was “in charge” so neither you nor Olli can blame the Tories as what they wanted was irrelevant at the time!
    By the way, I’m not a Tory but I do object to the stupid partisanship of some people.

  • Janete

    Totally agree that this message is being allowed to go unchallenged. I think the main problem was the length of time we took to elect a new leader allowing the Tories to freely peddle this narrative. The other problem lies in the culture of news reporting which usually ensures that only a journalist/presenter is present when these assertions are made, usually someone who has no interest in correcting the record.

    However, as the economy deteriorates further, as it inevitably will (just heard another growth forecast downgrade) the issue will continue to be debated. We need to remind the electorate that prior to May 2010, we were recovering from the recession, growth up and unemployment falling. Since then things have got a lot worse and the cuts have yet to bite. We needed careful management of the recovery not the incompetent naivety offered by Cameron and Osborne.

  • SG

    ‘Did they spend too much before the banking crisis hit?’

    Damn right they did. They inherited a booming economy and proceeded to run up a National debt of obscene proportions. The word ‘incompetent’ doesn’t even begin to describe them.

  • Pam

    Alastair…sorry Olli.

    When are you going to accept that Labour “messed-up” the economy.

    And, Callaghan “messed-up” the economy in the 70’s and Wilson shut more coalmines and got rid of more manufacturing in the 60’s.

    Get your facts right.

  • Pam

    But it’s true. They messed-up big time.

    Until you accept this… are whistling in the wind.

  • Dave Simons

    One person may have liked this – probably the person who wrote it – but I can’t help thinking that I recognise the style and tone from elsewhere – GET IT?

  • ronnie

    Just to spell it out for you:

    They didn’t mess up big-time because there would have been no economic disaster if the American toxic debt crisis had not occurred.

    The Labour Government did not cause the American crisis therefore the economic disaster could not have been their mess-up. Can you try to remember this in future? It’s really quite simple and has the added advantage of being true.

    PS don’t forget that if Brown and Darling hadn’t led the world in the response to the crisis, we would be in a much much worse place than we are now.

  • Pam

    You silly boy. We had more toxic debt than America.

  • Yonks

    Sorry old chap but someone else actually liked it, it’s slightly arrogant of you to assume that maybe just you has a valid opinion that naturally everyone agrees with don’t you think?


    To whom are you referring or are you delusional?

  • Dave Simons

    Yes Pam – let’s not only get our ‘facts’ right but interpret them in a meaningful context. The peak periods for pit closures were certainly the 1960s and the 1980s, and the ones in the 1960s happened under Labour AND Tory governments. They happened during a decade of what we now would regard as full employment – during the 1970 General Election campaigns Labour was criticised from left and right for its legacy of 600,000 unemployed. When the Tories got in they immediately bumped the figure up over the 1 million mark. Similarly, except worse, in 1979 the Tories got a load of Hendon Conservatives to pose as the unemployed under the slogan ‘Labour’s Not Working’, and when the Tories got in they immediately reintroduced 1930s levels of unemployment – over 3 million. Pit closures in the 1960s, when there were plenty of other, often better, jobs about, cannot be compared, figure for figure, with pit closures in the 1980s, when there was mass unemployment and hardly any alternative jobs to go to. If the Tories want to talk about ‘the broken society’ they want to take a close and honest look at the broken societies they created in the mining communities in the 1980s and 1990s. Even Norman Tebbit has now voiced regrets.
    So Labour ‘messed up’ the economy? Did the Tories in the 1980s not ‘mess up’ the economy when they created mass unemployment, turned manufacturing areas into rust belts and shifted the emphasis of the economy towards a deregulated finance industry? And what would they have done if they had been in government during the global financial crisis of 2007/8? Wouldn’t they have behaved rather as they did in 1987 and 1992, except more so?
    I don’t think for a minute that the Tories are all a bunch of opportunist liars – I met a nice one once – but I’ll confess that my blood begins to boil when I continue to find myself on the receiving end of this pathetic mantra that they – and people like you – keep parroting, either deliberately and by cunning design, or mindlessly, as I suspect is the case with you: Labour ‘messed up’ the economy.

  • Janete

    I assume Olli is referring to the widely accepted view that 1980’s deregulation started the rot as exemplified by the quote below:
    ‘Billionaire investor George Soros said the current economic upheaval has its roots in the financial deregulation of the 1980s and signals the end of a free-market model that has since dominated capitalist countries.’ Feb. 23 (Bloomberg)

    Margaret Thatcher followed Reagan in freeing up financial controls, arguing at the time that the loss of our manufacturing base would not cause a problem as we could easily replace it with our growing financial and services sector.

    What have we to thank Labour for? A good list is available on the Labour Party website. You may note that the list includes things the current government is trying to claim credit for as Cameron attempted to do at PMQs today.

    Interesting that you believe Gordon Brown should not have bailed out the banks. You are the first person I have heard suggesting this directly. How many people do you think would have lost their jobs had a full blown 1930’s style depression been allowed to run its course? What would the benefit bill be? How much would we have lost in tax revenues? How would you have coped without access to your own money?

    I’m afraid I don’t understand the PPI comment at all – unless you mean PFI?

  • Dave Simons

    Glad to hear that you’ve got at least one fan. It certainly would be very, not slightly, arrogant of me to assume that maybe just I have a valid opinion that naturally everyone agrees with. That would be true for anyone, wouldn’t it? I just don’t see how your comment follows logically from anything I said. My comment relates to a similarity of style and tone between certain posts on this blog which are supposedly written by different people. I don’t know whether this is a case of multiple personalities or a clone factory somewhere that churns out the same model. I do think that oppositional comments on this blog are usually, like yours, of a very low quality – terse, insulting and given to nasty nicknames. However I do remember a few months ago a Conservative supporter put a thoughtful post on the blog, and I acknowledged it at the time. I’d welcome more of the same.

  • Dave Simons

    This is indeed a very interesting assertion, Pam. Could you support it with some facts and figures?

  • ronnie

    Where did you get that one, Pam?

  • Pam

    Everyone else can’t be wrong and just the Labour party right.

    Campbell, Brown, Mandelson and all the other labour bods know the truth and either keep quiet or crawl under a stone. It’s just you foot soldiers that won’t accept it.

    Labour are renowned for messing-up the economy.

    Brown and Mandelson spent like there was no tomorrow……and we’ve nothing to show for it. Run-down hospitals…..people dying….just ask Andy Burnham and Alan Johnson about Stafford.

    Brown was profligate with the countries finances.

    I would just like to know where he “stashed” the money.

    Oh and by the way has he finished his gap year.

  • Pam

    Fact is there is a Public Enquiry going on at present into the deaths at Stafford Hospital.

    And, to quote Liam Byrne……..there is no money left!

    Facts and figures are all there for everyone to see except the “blinkered” few.

    But you will get the message eventually.

  • ronnie

    I get it now. Pam has taken us into a land of total fantasy and delusion.

    Pam, the whole world knows that the financial meltdown happened because of American toxic debt. This is universally accepted by everybody, not just the Labour Party (of which I’m not a member).

    You may not agree (unlike the Tory Party up to 2008) with Labour’s spending. But that doesn’t mean you can extrapolate from your personal antipathy that the whole crisis was in any way caused by Labour.

    Nobody thinks it was – not even the Tories.

    You’re just wrong

    Ask anyone

  • Pam

    “You may not agree (unlike the Tory Party up to 2008) with Labour’s spending”.

    The Tories were not in government in 2008. You can’t blame the Tories when it was the Labour party in power. They didn’t see the books.

    Just like Labour won’t come up with a plan to cut the deficit…..because they haven’t seen the books and they are not in government.

    No matter how much you would like to blame someone else the Tories were not in power in 2008…….so Labour must accept responsibility for the financial crisis caused by Brown’s overspending and total incompetence.

    I could go on and on. But Labour are never to be trusted with the economy ever again and I will sing it from the rooftops to make sure they don’t.

  • ronnie

    You’ll never be able to have an intelligent discussion until you learn to stick to the point.

    The subject of our little conversation is the cause of the economic meltdown. The word ’cause’ means ‘the thing that made it happen in the first place’.

    It is a historical fact that this worldwide disaster was caused by the American toxic debt crisis. I note you have not provided any evidence to contradict this.

    It is irrelevant who was in power in Britain. The crisis came from America and was not caused by the actions of the British Government. To say that Labour are responsible because they were in power is pretty much the same thing as saying Labour were responsible for the World Trade Centre attack because they were in power in 2001.

    Why not just leave it there before you embarrass yourself any further.

  • Dave Simons

     Thank you Pam. You’ve confirmed my suspicion that you are unable to support your assertion with any facts and figures. It’s just what you want to believe. Please bear in mind in future that assertions driven only by mindless gut reactions are unlikely to persuade anyone of anything, except that the people making the assertions have problems.

  • Dave Simons

     Well said Ronnie but why do we waste our time?

  • ronnie

    You’re right. Thank you. Until the next time!

  • Pam

    There you go again.  Always wanting to blame someone else.

    You can’t keep blaming  America for  the banking crisis. We were up to our neck in debt.

    It’s very simple to understand…….Labour must accept responsibility.  It happened on their watch.  Just as the Tories would have had to accept it if they were in power…..and they had “racked” up so much debt.

    In fact when Blair became PM in 89…….John Major and his cabinet “slunk off” into the wilderness for 13 years…..and that’s what the Labour party should do.  

    Please try not to be so condescending.  I thought you were supposed to be the “nice” party.  Another misconception.

  • Dave Simons

    Blair became PM in 1997. John Major resigned and was replaced by William Hague, who was replaced by Michael Howard, who was replaced by David Cameron. In an earlier post you wrote:
    ‘Facts and figures are all there for everyone to see except the “blinkered” few.’
    i give you some facts and figures.

  • Pam

    Yes, I am very sorry. 
    .Margaret Thatcher was “knifed” in 1990.  To be replaced by John Major who became PM and then replaced by Hague and Howard until Tony Blair in 97.

    Doesn’t time fly when your having fun . 

  • Dave Simons

     Hague and Howard became leaders of the Conservative Party AFTER Tony Blair became Prime Minister in 1997.