Monday, 13 January 2014

Retoxifying the Conservative brand

Do you remember when David Cameron (above) was quite popular? Go on, you do - when he was a fresh-faced, floppy-haired blast of fresh air after years of hiding under the bed from Gordon Brown's scowling? When he promised a little bit more understanding, and a little bit less condemning? When he wanted to 'hug a hoodie'? Go green? Share the proceeds of economic growth? Stop more runway building at Heathrow? End his Party's long obsession about Europe?

Yes, it all seems a long time ago, now - leaving behind an electorate that just feels it's been conned.

Now prison sentences are to head inexorably upwards again. Now Mr Cameron himself rages against the 'green crap' that he pretends is causing the UK's rising fuel bills. And announces public sector austerity all the way through to 2018/19. Now his government has commissioned a report that's pretty favourable to a third runway at Heathrow - and is bigging up the illusion of a new 'deal' in Europe that is just pandering to the completely unrealistic demands of his backbenchers. Stay in a single trade zone, without any of the Single Market consequences (including the free movement of peoples)? Yes, and the moon really is made of green cheese.

Anyway. Not all of these u-turns are his fault. Many of them are perfectly understandable - in particular, his attempts to shore up the vote on his Right against an insurgent United Kingdom Independence Party that has succeeded in yoking the issues of immigration and the European Union tightly together.

But taken together, they're potentially fatal. Because they leave the lingering impression - whether it's right or wrong - that the Prime Minister didn't mean a word of it. For a leader once compared by this very blog to the Conservatives' emollient and centrist inter-war bromide of a leader, Stanley Baldwin, that's a very, very long way to fall. For what is the point of Mr Cameron if not as the compassionate, pragmatic centrist type of good egg he liked to pose as during his years as Leader of the Opposition?

Rule number one of selling anything, including political parties: never trash your own brand. Gerald Ratner can tell you about that, if you really want. As a former advertising man himself, you'd think Mr Cameron would know better.

Apparently not.

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