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May 04, 2005

It could have been so much worse

Posted by Anonymous Commentator

Where it all didn’t go wrong
The Tory campaign could not have got off to a worse start than the Howard Flight affair. It was seen as a gift to the Labour narrative; Michael Howard and David Maclean’s berserk over-reaction gave the story legs, and demoralised the Conservative base; and, by simply happening at all, it deflected Tory attacks on the government. Even had the press been receptive to running with Tory stories, which they may well have been at the beginning of the campaign, the media were obliged to report ‘whither the Tories?’ rather than ‘what about Blair?’ pieces. So a disaster every which way. But, and this illustrates just how foolish Howard and Maclean were to react the way they did, it all could have been umpteen times worse.

On 8th March at Portcullis House in Westminster, the now deceased ‘think tank’, the New Frontiers Foundation had its last hurrah. Its director, Dominic Cummings, assembled nearly a dozen Tory MPs, including whips, front benchers, ex-shadow cabinet members and indeed the chairman of the 1922 committee. With them were a few other think tank/pressure group folk, from Vote No and the like, and perhaps juiciest of all, everyone’s would-be best friend, Stuart Wheeler was there. Now as I say, sadly the NFF is with us no more. This was announced later in March by an email from poor old Dominic which was, um, mildly hubristic to say the least. To say it more accurately, this modest little soul’s missive had more than a shade of in-the-bunker ranting: "Britain, you haff failed me: you deserve to perish" being pretty much the message. (Judge for yourself if you want). Anyway, the thing is, at this meeting there was plenty of entertainment to be had, notably from a frontbench pompadoured poseur, who’s not in the shadow cabinet anymore, but was under Hague and Duncan Smith (and to the delight of all his many friends, was the first Tory MP to shamelessly slither along to the Saatchi gallery for Howard’s post-coup press conference).

If you’ll remember, Flight’s sin which rocked the ages was to suggest that the Tories had a hidden agenda, contrary to the one leader Howard set out. Well, had the talk of this meeting reached the public, it’s not obvious what David Maclean would have done, but it probably would have required several of the more enthusiastic members of CRD, a few shovels, a lime pit and an ability to sleep dreamlessly. For at this early March meeting, our bequiffed nonce led off a discussion, which enjoyed universal assent from those gathered together, with the claim that, ‘after we have lost the election, we have to get out of Europe. That’s what our policy has to be. The single market has failed, it’s all been a disaster. It doesn’t matter what we say going into this election, that’s what our policy has to be. And we should pick a fight with the few federalists left in the party. We should lance that boil, we should drive them out’. Now as is the way of these things, the press did get hold of all this, after the Flight affair, but before nominations had closed. Meaning, obviously, if the story broke, Howard would either have had to contemplate binning virtually a tenth of his parliamentary party, or, accept the ridicule and chaos that would have accompanied Labour’s gleeful reaction to this revelation. Fortunately for the Tories, it fell into the hands of Associated Newspapers, who sat on the story after the idle cat-torturing-a-mouse fun of first putting it up to, well, I won’t name him. He did after all break down in tears, and who would wish to see such naked shame?

All that means though that it was simply by grace of the Boss Press’s determination to do one last turn by the party of bourgeois oppression that the Tory party, thanks to Michael Howard’s incompetence, didn’t actually implode a month ago. And that as much as anything else is the problem with the modern Conservative. Contrary to what every other pundit likes to opine every time some non-crisis (or actual crisis) confronts Tony Blair and New Labour, the governing party shows its bedrock strength and unity. It may be a vapid unity, running away from anything other than polled opinion, but, that’s the difference with the Tories. Whether they could afford decent pollsters or not, they can’t cohere round any line not because they’re fundamentally split (all parties in a sense are), but because they’re so damn feeble. Self evident as this ought to be to say, the Tory party’s weakness is its fragility. It couldn’t survive a civil war. The task of its next leader will not be to regain office, it will be to stave off the internal fight that is more than capable of killing official Conservatism in Britain.

For the duration of the campaign, the Social Affairs Unit will be publishing regular commentaries on the progress of the UK election. These commentaries represent the views of the anonymous commentator, not those of the Social Affairs Unit, its Trustees, Advisors or Director.

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SO what anonoymous is saying is that the Tories are stymied by the media, which is so boringly stupid that it can't actually see the real story (the Government's complete ineptitude) but must continually harp on about the Opposition.

I agree that the Tories need to take up a populist cause (small government, lower taxes and better public services) and keep at it, no matter what Labour and the media say. Like John Howard in Australia, the Tories need to talk over the heads of the media. That requires confidence and the intelligence to see that most people hate the media types and their ideas. It also means getting locally popular candidates in marginal seats.

But most importantly, the Tory lawyers have got to work very hard in the Boundary Commission so that a majority of votes in England (which is what they achieved last Thursday) is translated into a majority of seats.

And that is the point. Anonymous can drone on about the campaign and the significance of this that and the other thing politically, but it all means diddly squat if he fails to mention the huge Gerrymander that favours the Labour Party.

Posted by: Peter at May 9, 2005 02:38 AM
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