Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Labour should not copy failed Tory campaigns

Patrick Wintour reports in today's Guardian that there is a plan to treat the Tories as hard right headbangers in a Cameron mask for the next election. While this may provide some comfort to unthinking activists, I doubt it will have any more impact on voters than John Major's brilliant New Labour, New Danger campaign, with its absurd Demon Eyes adverts.

This is not to say that there is not some truth in the charge that many Tory activists have not embraced the Cameron revolution. Many have not. But many Labour activists - the misleading name for regular meeting-goers - never embraced Blairism either. The difference is that many swing voters believe they have changed; the challenge for Labour is not to tell those voters that they have been hoodwinked, but to show where it has superior policies to the Conservatives on all the issues that matter and where the Tories' plans are to dismantle popular programmes.

Of course, this will require some signs of economic and housing market recovery, and falling food and fuel inflation, before the next election. But it will also require the government to give a better account of itself and a better account of the real rather than imagined differences that exist between it and the Conservatives. This means publicly acknowledging changes on issues like gay rights or green issues before attacking differences of substance.

There is, for example, no point in pretending that the Conservatives would reintroduce school selection when they patently would not. But if George Osborne decides to cut public spending, there is a genuine argument to be had. Equally, there is a far better debate to be had between the successful government approach to failing schools and cutting waiting lists - which has meant minimum national standards, or targets - and the more laissez-fair Tory approach.

Of course, this will require messages that are simple and straightforward. But Labour should not copy the Tory mistakes of 1997, if it wants to make the 2010 election a winnable fight.

1 comment:

John Adams said...

I agree. Derek Draper was up in Gateshead last week, and this point cropped up. He made the case well, but it doesn't convince for me.

I think the stronger arguement is that even if Cameron desires the ends he will not provide the means. I don't think people will listen if we say he doesn't care about child poverty (he says he does, and he doesn't yet have a record on which we can judge him). Far better to point out that he's publicly said he wants to see tax credits scaled back - a specific policy that will only lead to greater child poverty. There are other examples, but you get the point.

There's a right way and a wrong way to take the fight to the Tories I think.