Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Can Labour's strategy really be as threadbare as this?

The latest noises out of the Labour Party should be deeply worrying to the Party's members, supporters or wellwishers.

The Observers's Sunday scoop was to show how Shaun Woodward (above), once a Conservative but now a Labour strategist and Shadow Minister, is apparently urging Labour leader Ed Miliband to accuse David Cameron of being 'recognisably a right-winger' and 'authentically Conservative'.

Along with many other commentators, I think this is a complete non-starter. Labour people hate it. It's silly.

Shouting names like this doesn't do much for voters. It leaves them cold.

Historically, David Cameron's popularity, and the problem of his opponents, is something we've seen many times before. As Jerry Hayes points out, Harold Macmillan used to infuriate both his Right-wing backbenchers and the Left by stealing Labour clothes and talking about his 'progressive', even 'socialist' past at every opportunity. None of it hurt him one jot. Harold Wilson stole Conservative clothes when he talked about efficiency, industrial reform and the 'white heat' of scientific opportunity and white-collar expertise. Tony Blair moved blindingly fast to steal almost every Conservative image and idea he could, leaving the Tories with the age-old dilemma: do you attack your opponent for not changing, or for changing too much and having no principles? In the end, the Conservatives under John Major went for the absurd and much-maligned 'Demon Eyes' campaign in 1997, an offensive campaign that tried to have it both ways and ended up not having 'it' any way at all.

Labour's faced with the same dilemma now. Is David Cameron really 'recognisably conservative' in the same way 1980s extremists were? When he leads a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, talks about reducing reliance on CCTV, uses the NHS and encourages the adoption of gay and lesbian Prospective Parliamentary Candidates? Er, no it isn't. And pretending that it is just won't wash. It's the equivalent of Labour's apparent deficit denial - unpopular and unrecognisable to the bulk of the population. To the extent that the Government is moving to the Right, they'll be popular for doing so - on crime, immigration and welfare.

Ed Miliband has started the new political season much more cannily, calling for a post-riots vote on reductions in police numbers and pointing out that the Government's cuts will do great damage to causes the Right, as well as the Left, holds dear (in this case law and order). Long may it continue.

Dave as 'recognisably Right-wing'? In the bin, please.

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