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.
How many Labour MPs seeking re-election have asked Tony Blair to campaign for them in their constituencies ?
I reckon that I am one of the many key swing voters in this election. I am 40, from a middle class background, did not vote for TB in 97 as I did not think he could carry his party, voted for him in xx. I am still a TB fan (although I am not sure this is a characteristic of the swing vote!). A large part of me wants to vote Labour in the coming election, however, there are certain things that I have been struggling with. My main issue has been with GB. I completely agree with Kaletsky re the crisis. My issue is that when there is not a crisis his inclination is to play left-right politics (Tory cuts etc). The Tories are digging their own hole – I could not believe Osbourne’s tax give away. GB needs to stop thinking about what the Tories are doing and focus on what is right for the UK. He will then get my vote.
Does Murdoch charge for content?
I am becoming just as irritated by you by the constant editorialising on TV and radio. I watched Sky’s live coverage of Tony Blair’s speech then listened to someone who wasn’t even there explaining why he thought it was bad for Labour. The BBC is bad enough but Sky is becoming so biased they might as well have Vote Cameron in the corner of the screen
You are quite right that the Torie’s “time for change” line won’t work. After all, we voted in New Labour in 1997 on the basis that “things can only get better” and instead they got a whole lot worse.
Thank you for a really enjoyable evening at the Essex Book Festival last night. Because of all the bad press you get I was expecting you to get a hard time but what came through from the audience was real respect and considerable warmth and fondness. My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and thank you for signing our books
As the election draws ever closer I am astonished at the lack of a coherent vision from The Tories. I think many of of us thought that their vacuity was surely a strategy and that come 2010 they would announce raft after raft of eye catching initiatives to entice the electorate. Not so.
To highlight their complete and utter failure is a surprisingly consistent Liberal Democrat party. They’ve picked out a handful of issues and doggedly stuck by them throughout. To see Cable and Darling round on George Osbourne was the political equivalent of the proverbial rabbit being caught in the headlights.
It’s too late for the Tories to reverse this strategy now. For they have already slipped into that one area that all serious politicians should surely wish to avoid…ridicule. Every poster they do now triggers a whole raft of witty, and yet cutting, variations created by various humourous souls.
They can’t go on like this.
Having lied, cheated and ignored the electorate for many years, Brown is now slowly introducing ideas to convince us that he is interested in what we have to say. I am not convinced and Blair’s intervention only convinces me further that Labour need a complete change of direction. They are now demonstrating very clearly that the leadership will do and say anything to stay in power.
What we have learned over the past 13 years is that principle and conviction mean nothing – power means everything.
Years ago when I worked in TV I remember having to go through all the main newspapers of the day, broadsheets and tabloids. I guess it was a bit like the work of the people who compile the Labour Party’s monitoring brief.
I read that report of Tony Blair’s speech in The Guardian Online and I thought his analysis of the problems faced and presented by the Conservative party was very good. Except I don’t think the Conservatives should go with traditional Conservative thinking on law and order.
How right Blair is about the Conservatives and Europe, however I think this is symptomatic of a much greater failing.
The Conservative party is dominated by the very large eurosceptic wing who are, imho, all nutty as fruitcakes. Cameron is powerless to control them.
If the Conservative party wins the next election it will likely be by a very small margin. He will not last long with such a weak majority and so little control over the party, there will be some sort of issue, possibly european or national, which will divide the party and bring them tumbling down.
AC – I heard you wrote/contributed to TB’s speech – come on we aint that daft !!
I got a list as long as my arm re Kaletskys wrong calls…he has love-ins with your new labour mates at Goldmans so all a bit biased….Bottom line is that whatever is required over the next 5yrs its NOT a continuation of GB,thats what swing voters will have flash across their minds come May 6th
Kaletsky has never favoured the Tories. We do have some knowledge and experience out here you know.
I think for the same reasons people voted for Blair in 1997 people will vote for Cameron.
Brown is either loathed or pitied. He is disingeuous and has been caught lying so many times. He seems to have ‘psychological flaws’ as someone once said and these make him incapable of leadership. They also make him tied to the daily media frenzy as opposed to long term vision.
If you are interested in Cameron’s policies and vision there are plenty of places to find it. That’s what I did when I was deciding who to vote for. It is fascinating to note the crap in the media over this. We see Brown failing to talk policy every PMQs and when Cameron then talks policy Brown bizarrely replies that Cameron never wants to talk policy.
It’s also odd that most of Labour’s policies have now been nicked from the Tories. If they have no vision can you explain this?
The reality is that this is all spin without substance as usual. Must be great for the old self respect?
I saw on last night’s BBC news that TB had made a speech, which featured very little of what he actually said, so thanks Alastair for actually highlighting the contents of the speech – evidently uncomfortable listening for some, since more time was devoted to Nick Robinson’s rather stupid and spiteful comments about TB’s tan. Would that be because Blair’s been in the Middle East as a Peace Envoy?
I noticed Robinson had modified his comments by the 10 o’clock news, although still very little coverage of the actual speech.
DC did comment that it was nice to see Tony making a speech that he was not being paid for….
@AC “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.”
Well, having given Blair those lines, you would say that, wouldn’t you?
Sad reminder that if TB was still leader Cameron and Tories wouldn’t be getting a look in. The large number of Blairites who are exiting the parliament demonstrates that era is over and the Brownites have the Labour party now, lose or win.
Regarding Dave’s glib comment on TB not getting paid for speeches, he’s obviously never looked up Hague’s register of parliamentary interests.