Not had time to read any of the papers, not heard any of the news, but the debate that has suddenly kicked off on my Facebook page re William Hague and Lord Ashcroft tells me that one has some way to run yet. Labour supporters scenting blood, Tories kicking out in all sorts of different directions.
The debate was around my tweet on the subject of a headline in The Guardian – ‘Tories rally round beleaguered Hague’ – which I suggested it was not exactly the kind of headline you wanted for a key campaigner just before a key campaign.
Before going out to the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research dinner last night, where I shared the bill with Jeffrey Archer – one of the auction prizes was tea with the two of us at The Wolseley btw and someone paid several thousand for this dubious honour – I saw William Hague on the news talking about his role in the Ashcroft murk.
Hague’s straight-forwardness and straight talking is one of his strengths but he looked distinctly uncomfortable. He managed to get away with a clip for the news, but the look on his face suggested to me he would not fancy ten rounds with Jeremy Paxman or a select committee on the subject. The tough questions are not going to go away on this.
It brings me to a different point though. Every campaign has a list of key campaigners and of course Hague, as a former leader and de facto deputy leader of the Tory Party, is one such. The Ashcroft murk could force him to be less active and engaged than has been planned. Cameron is of course THE key campaigner. With the economy central to the campaign, George Osborne is another, and is not very popular with the public or the City. Kenneth Clarke is popular but, as shown by his mis-speak on tax policy in debate with Peter Mandelson yesterday, marginalised. Tory HQ has decided Michael Gove is a secret weapon, but I have yet to decide in which direction he is being targeted. All in all, it is a thin list.
It is why Labour as a team has to be a central part of the election campaign. Alistair Darling has seen his authority and reputation enhanced. The Miliband brothers are both clever and attractive politicians. Alan Johnson has the kind of popular touch DC’s public school toffs’ party would give half of their inheritance tax cut for. Harriet Harman, Yvette Cooper and Tessa Jowell belie the claim there are no women at GB’s top table. Ed Balls, Andy Burnham, Liam Byrne, Jim Murphy, Peter Hain, Jack Straw … Bob Ainsworth is far more popular with the military than the press pretend. Shaun Woodward understands strategy and understands how to attack the Tories. Peter Mandelson and Douglas Alexander are class acts on the campaigns front.
Of course these elections are about electing individual MPs. But they are also about electing governments and the lack of strength in depth on the Tory side is a real problem for them. Here we are, a few weeks away, and the vast bulk of the team that could soon be running our country could walk down most of its streets without a soul knowing who the hell they are.
They banked on Cameron the one-man-band being enough. They were wrong.
* Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.