I hope someone at Tory Central Office is minting a medal for Michael Fallon, the MP who so gamely trots from studio to studio defending whatever Cameron-Osborne shambles happens to be trending at the time.
But last night, as he sat with others waiting for election results to come in, there came a little sign that the pressure is beginning to show. He was on Newsnight, and as he was asked what the Tories now need to do to get back on track, he said they needed to do a better job of ‘communicating our achievements.’
And I thought no, no, no … Michael, I am a fellow warrior who can spot the kindred spirit who always wants to defend his own side, always wants to swim against the tide of lazy conventional wisdom, always wants to show there is a long-term game and the game can still be won … but ‘communicating our achievements…’ Bad, bad, bad. This is akin to saying ‘one day the ungrateful bastards who make up the British public will realise what’s good for them, and what’s good for them is two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk presiding over them from a modern day Downtown Abbey.’
The problem is that people do not have a sense of achievement; not because of poor communications (that is the one thing Cameron is actually quite good at); but because of poor achievement.
Let’s wind back a couple of years. There was one big goal … dealing with the deficit, wiping it out in a term, shedding thousands and thousands of jobs in the public sector, making billions and billions of cuts, because the private sector was going to fill the jobs gap, and brave new reforms were going to drive up standards in public services … and it has not happened. You can communicate all you want, but you can’t say that black is white.
So in this week, 15 years on from Labour’s first win under Tony Blair, let’s remember what was the big economic goal of the time … stability, low inflation and interest rates, a fall in unemployment, a rise in spending on public services … and within two years it was clear we were delivering, and the public had a sense of that happening.
Yes, three terms later, it ended badly on the economic front, and it is one of the reasons we lost. But the memory of ten years of relatively good growth and stability is one of the reasons the Tories didn’t win. And when they came in, instead of having an economic strategy as big and as bold as the one TB and GB put together, they had a political strategy alone … to blame Labour ‘for the mess we inherited.’
I’ll tell you when I knew the Tories were in for a bad night. Wednesday evening, at the Sport Industry Awards, 1700 people there so plenty from all political persuasions but in terms of the last election, probably more who voted Tory than voted Labour. The business people were almost uniform in their view that the Tories were not up to it, that competence was a real issue, the Budget a political disaster, the queues at Heathrow a symbol, that there was no real sense of a plan that was working, and they were sick to the back teeth of the ‘all Labour’s fault’ line.
There were quite a few top sports people there as well and one – from the world of rugby – said to me ‘can you imagine a football manager or a rugby coach who was still blaming his predecessor two seasons after he took over?’ Mmmm, good point I thought.
So the failures being rejected at the ballot box are not failures of communication, but failures of policy and leadership, and the good news for Labour is that there seems this morning to be very little sign that these are going to be addressed.
Indeed, they are now sitting hoping for a Boris Johnson win to point to as a sign that all can be retrieved. But if Johnson wins, it will be despite the Tories in Westminster not because of them, and he will use the win to undermine Cameron and Osborne rather than support them.
For Labour, a great opportunity now beckons. Ed Milband has shown a lot of resilience through a difficult start. He has shown Labour can oppose. The Labour view on the economy and austerity, once derided by the conventional wisdom, is now getting traction. So the first two years of Opposition have not been wasted. The next two years have to be about continuing to show we can oppose, but also now developing the forward policy agenda in a way that shows that whereas the government appears to have no answers to continuing problems, Labour does.
It is most definitely game on, and if the Tory response is that they need to do a better job of communicating their achievements, the game can most certainly be won.