One of the great joys of continuing involvement in Labour campaigning is access to the Party’s media monitoring brief, largely unchanged in format since we started it way back in the mid-90s.
It is hard not to feel for people whose job is to plough through all our papers, and listen to all that blather and drivel on the TV and radio, but they should know their work – reducing everything to a digestible ten-page report – is hugely appreciated by those who find reading the papers an often depressing chore and listening to the blatherers a 24-hour irritant.
‘Too many decision-makers define their reality according to that days’s media – it is almost always a mistake.’ So said Bill Clinton in a TV interview I did with him when his book came out. In other words, you need to know what the media are saying and doing, but don’t let them define your strategy.
It is yet one more lesson the Tories have failed to learn. They bob and weave fairly effectively from one day’s papers to the next, exploiting a situation here, jumping on a bandwagon there. But they lack a strategic course and so the picture of them gets fuzzier at time it should be getting clearer.
I can see why they would want to dismiss TB’s speech in Trimdon yesterday, but it actually contained what could be priceless strategic advice, were it not too late for them to take it on board. So let’s hear it from The Guardian, as recorded in Labour’s media monitoring report …
‘Back in his old constituency, and with all his usual brio, Stratton says TB sought to dismantle any notion that comparisons cld be drawn btwn the New Labour project that swept to victory in 1997, and the Conservatives under Cameron. TB never actually mentioned Cameron by name – instead, he concentrated on the message that the Tories were trying to send, why it was flawed, and why he believes Labour cld still secure a fourth term. The Conservatives’ “time for a change” mantra, he argued, wld not wash. It left him, he said, ‘puzzled’, ‘confused’ and he described it as ‘vacuous’. Choosing half a dozen policy areas, TB: ‘Why the confusion? The benign explanation is that the policy-makers are confused, not just the policies. The less benign one is that one set of policies represents what they believe in; the other what they think they have to say to win. That’s not a confusion, actually; that’s a strategy and the British pple deserve to have that strategy exposed before polling day’. TB also criticised the Tories on law and order, sggstng they had gone too far to the left: ‘They’ve gone liberal when actually they shld have stuck with a traditional Conservative position. When it comes to the big policy issues, there is a puzzle, that has turned into a problem that has now become a long hard pause for thought: Where are they centred? Is there a core? Think of all the phrases you associate with their leadership and the phrase “you know where you are with them” is about the last description you wld think of. They seem like they haven’t made up their mind about where they stand; and so the British public finds it hard to make up its mind about where it stands. In uncertain times, there is a lot to be said for certain leadership’.
TB being a former Labour leader, Tories might just mutter ‘he would say that wouldn’t he?’ and sit tight waiting for the next bandwagon to roll in. But meanwhile they would do well to read Anatole Kaletsky in The Times, not a man to hold back from criticising Labour, but who today turns his attention to the Tories. Again, I am indebted to Labour’s media monitors for this account too.
‘The two-faced Tories can’t have it both ways’ (Ti op-ed) – Kaletsky says the fundamental cause of the Tory malaise, from which all other symptoms follow, is that they are sending two opposing messages at the same time. In the chancellors’ debate, Osborne inveighed against the supposedly ruinous debts run up by GB and promised to repay them faster than Labour. He then declared that public services wld be protected more reliably under the Tories than by Labour and that taxes wld be cut, adding NI to IHT and marriage benefits to the long list of top priorities for immediate tax reductions. If this inconsistency was a single lapse, it might have been ignored or forgiven. But it is not. Such blatantly contradictory messages appear to comprise his party’s entire election strategy. The way to square this circle, they insist, is by eliminating unnecessary and inefficient spending. Except that last Friday Cameron added another £4bn of vital benefits, including bus passes, TV licences and winter fuel payments for retired bankers and millionaires, to the long list of priorities that the Tories wld protect come hell or high water.
‘Kaletsky reckons the nightmare for the Tories as the elex approaches is that the inconsistencies long obvious in their economic thinking begin to infect their political image. That the Tories are Janus-faced on the most important issue facing the nation – the need to set responsible priorities for debt reduction through tax increases and spending cuts. And being two-faced translates into untrustworthy and contemptuous of the voters’ intelligence. The Tories want to present themselves as potential saviours for a nation that, under GB’s leadership, has suffered the economic equivalent of Dunkirk. But if they genuinely believe that Britain has suffered 13 years of shocking economic mismanagement since 1997, that reducing debt is an overriding moral obligation and that the country is now on the brink of bankruptcy, then Dunkirk-style sacrifices must be demanded. In that case the Tories are grossly irresponsible to promise tax cuts or protect spending programmes such as the NHS, not to mention foreign aid, bus passes and winter fuel payments. If, on the other hand, the Tories are trying to come to terms with modern Britain as it is, they must acknowledge that considerable economic, as well as social, progress has been achieved under Labour and must stop making silly comparisons with Greece. In that case, they shld admit that the all-out financial catastrophe that genuinely threatened the nation in the winter of 2008-09 has been avoided and that some credit should go to the sensible decisions made at the height of the crisis by GB and Darling. Kaletsky asserts that predictions of disaster are rarely useful or constructive, even at a time of crisis. Pple in Britain are suffering hardship but still looking forward to a brighter future. Yet the Tories appear to be running down the country either in the hope of securing electoral advantage or because they are still the nasty party which cannot bring itself to terms with modern Britain. This does neither the Tories nor the country any good. Although Churchill offered blood, toil, tears and sweat, he predicted ultimate victory. Since Britain is not facing an economic Dunkirk, the Tories wld be wise to emphasise the victory over the blood and tears (Ti).’
That’s the other great thing about the media monitoring report. Sometimes it writes my blog for me. Thanks to them, and to Mr Kaletsky. The best news of all is that the Tories seem incapable of heeding good strategic advice.
* Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.