First the good news. We had our wobbles too. No, not this week (and by the way perhaps I should send you the ‘what Cameron will do’ note I did pre-debate. Of my top ten that you should have done, you only did three and a half.) But enough of that. You want to know about our wobbles. Yes, in 1997, 2001 and 2005, there were some pretty bad moments. And we won them all well, so perhaps you can take a little comfort from that.
I suppose the manifesto launch 2001 has to rank close to the top among the wobbles. Launch goes well. Then TB gets monstered by Sharon Storer, Jack Straw gets slow-handclapped by the cops and finally JP decides to take literally our instruction that senior figures need to connect with the electorate.
Last time out too, fair to say there were what might be termed ‘strategic tensions’ (sound familiar) within the campaign.
Now, however, the bad news. It is that TB always knew what he stood for, and it was always well understood within the campaign. And the reason for that is that the strategic heavy lifting had been done long before the election campaigns were launched.
As you go on about Broken Britain (or are we back on Big Society today?) forgive me if I become a broken record … but I have been saying for some time that unless you sorted the key policy and strategic positions before the campaign proper, there was a danger you would fall apart during the campaign itself.
All the briefing and back-biting going on within your campaign will only stop if you have a clear and consistent strategy that the key players all understand and, even if they continue to have reservations, sign up to. But as Peter M has pointed out in the Indpendent on Sunday today, you have one strain of advice going in one ear, a contradictory strain of advice in the other, and you appear to be trying to keep both sides happy.
It won’t work. I assumed from your manifesto launch – The Big Society to the fore – that this would form a major part of your TV debate pitch. You just dropped it. Then when everyone pointed out that you had just dropped it, you came back to it, as per today’s Observer article. But it is either a strategic building block or it isn’t. If it is, keep on it. If it isn’t, shut up. But decide for heaven’s sake.
I’m not too sure either about your response to the Lib Dem surge. Look, the upside of the debates that you pressed so hard for is that millions of people tuned in to see them. The downside, for you, is that they gave Nick Clegg the chance to be a more attractive ‘time for a change’ candidate, and they gave GB the chance to expose you as a policy lightweight. Also, the format was so X-Factorish that a bit of X-Factor post-event media mania was inevitable too.
But your focus on the dangers of a hung Parliament was self-serving, and looked petulant, bad-loserish. You should focus much more on Lib Dem policy. But I can see why that is difficult. Because it takes you back to your basic strategic conundrum. But your response was too tactical, too obvious.
You have two weeks to sort your strategy. well no, you have two weeks to sort and implement. You have a couple of days to sort. If you don’t sort it by then, you’ll find the wobble may become something more serious.
Oh, and finally, the celeb thing is not really working for you. A bit of colour and glamour is fine for a campaign, but if people start to think it is a substitute for policy and focus on real issues, rather than an accompaniment, it becomes a problem for you. So with all due respect to Michael Caine, Gary Barlow and the like, I reckon they have been net losers for you. I hear Big Arnie is on his way to help you. At least he is a politician as well as a celeb. But I would be careful not to give the British people any sense that you’re shipping in foreigners to tell us how to vote.
I hope that you will ignore this, as you have ignored all my previous suggestions that you sort your strategy out. Take care and enjoy the sunshine. Like your poll leads of recent years, it won’t last forever
** Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash to fight the Tories http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.