Another day, another perfectly fair, accurately quoted interview, this time in the Daily Telegraph, with Celia Walden. There are various reasons why I said ‘yes’ when she asked to do the piece. First, because I always liked her and I always liked her Dad, former Tory MP George Walden. Second, and most importantly because after she read my last novel, Maya, she told me she found it uncanny how I got inside women’s heads when writing, which first sparked the thought of writing as a woman, as I do in My Name Is. And third, because how can feel anything but sympathy and understanding for someone who is married, 24 hours a day, to Piers Morgan?
So ‘yes’ it was and we sat and chatted for a fair old time, lots on the book, lots on my old boozing days, a fair bit on politics and Syria and Iraq in particular, and though I might have liked more on the book and less on the politics, I have no quibble with the way she has written it all up. But what is it with headline writers? I showed the headline – ‘Surely, people can do better than we did’ – to Fiona, and asked her what she thought it meant? She looked surprised, knowing – as Decca Aitkenhead pointed out in the Guardian on Saturday in another nice but lazily headlined piece – how hard I find it to criticise the record of the last Labour government. ‘I would say it says you think Tony’s government wasn’t up to much.’
Now within the piece there is actually a line, with quotes to back it up, that says how vehemently I defend TB and his record, and if you read carefully, I think it is fairly clear what I am saying when I say ‘surely people can do better than we did.’ The ‘we’ is not TB et al, but me, Peter Mandelson, Philip Gould alas no longer with us, namely those of us on the comms and strategy side who are from time to time mentioned as being what Ed Miliband needs to sharpen up his chances of winning the next election. I made the point that as it is ten years since I left the frontline of politics full-time, and as the world of media and comms has changed so quickly, surely there are other younger people coming through who can do better than we would. So … long-winded way of saying, nice piece, for which thanks, and thanks for echoing Decca’s comments about the book, but I am certainly not saying this government could do a better job than TB’s, because they can’t and they’re not.
Back on the Telegraph front page, and in most of the right wing media, George Osborne was getting big licks for trails of a speech he is making today claiming that he has been vindicated in his handling of the economy.
I was wondering when I did The Guardian interview when Osborne would start up with his claims to have turned things around, which is why I said this … ‘The Conservatives have very, very successfully managed to persuade the public of a complete lie – this line, “the mess we’ve inherited” – and we’ve allowed them to. What it means is that they only need a fairly slim recovery to say: “We’ve done our job.” They haven’t done their job, they’ve not done what they said they would, they haven’t fixed the economy, and we had a decade of pretty good growth and prosperity that ended badly because of an international crisis, which Gordon actually handled bloody well. But we’ve allowed that “mess we’ve inherited” to become a given because we haven’t wanted to defend the record, and that’s a strategic error.’
Is it recoverable? asked Decca Aitkenhead. ‘It’s recoverable provided we recognise that that needs to be done. But too many people in the Labour party don’t want to do that. Britain was not a mess when Cameron took over. The LSE Growth Commission has just said Britain was no worse-prepared for the crisis than anyone else, and had an economic success story to tell. But we don’t tell it.’
With Osborne and David Cameron now moving into a new stage of pre-election campaigning on the economy, this is as good a time as any for Labour to start rebutting properly ‘the mess we inherited’ line of attack so that they are then properly heard when talking about the future.
For those unaware of the LSE Growth Commission Report I referred to, here is the blog I did on it a few weeks ago. And here is the one I did before Professor Vernon Bogdanor had drawn my attention to it.
Now I await the arrival of an interviewer from the Independent. Memo to sub-editor charged with writing the headline – a free signed copy of My Name Is will be yours is the headline a) reflects what I say and b) reflects what the piece says.
Rebuttal over. But I hope Labour’s rebuttal is active and vigorous today. Because it matters so much more, not least to the millions of people who must be hearing and reading headlines about this economic ‘recovery’ and as they struggle with their family finances, asking ‘has this got anything to do with me?’