How Gordon Brown can win the next election

March 4, 2008

Should Labour attack Cameron’s ‘Mitt-flops’?


At the moment the situation looks relatively bleak for Gordon Brown. According to the latest poll Labour are seven point behind the Conservatives, while my projections have the Conservative lead slightly larger. On a Uniform National Swing this would leave the Conservatives with a majority of about 28. However, the fact that the opinion polls traditionally overestimate Labour and the Conservatives seem to be better at targeting their resources into marginal constituencies mean the possibility of a Tory majority closer to 50 to 60, or even 70 to 80 should not be ruled out. At the same time Ken Livingstone is trailing in the polls against Boris Johnson in the race to be London’s mayor, showing that the Conservative machine is credibly able to challenge an incumbent who at least perceived to be somewhat popular.

Even the traditionally critical Conservative grassroots seem to be pleased with Cameron’s performance. Indeed, some commentators are now starting to talk of a ‘Cameron effect’, where even negative coverage of the Conservative leader boosts the Conservatives in the opinion polls, with the political prognosticator Mike Smithson stating that, ‘the Tories poll well the more Cameron is making the headlines – even if the coverage is negative’. This would seem to make any attempt to take David Cameron on head on, suicidal for Labour. However, Karl Rove, the famous (some would say infamous) advisor to George W Bush, proved, by winning two elections, that attacking what is perceived to be your opponents biggest asset sometimes is a very effective strategy. Indeed, Cameron has provided Labour with plenty of ammunition over the few years of his political career.

For instance, Cameron seems to be a politician of few fixed principles. While ideological flexibility and a willingness to adapt one’s beliefs as events unfold is a necessary political skill, the extent to which Cameron has changed his mind on matters of economic, social and foreign policy is breathtaking, as is the speed of these transformations. Less than three years ago Cameron was elected on a platform of continuity with that of his predecessor Michael Howard. Indeed, Cameron had helped run the, ‘are you thinking what we’re thinking’ campaign that tried to win on the back of an attempt to stirs up fear about refugees and asylum seekers and promised to reduce public spending by sacking anyone in the public sector who got pregnant. However, immediately after he was elected, he went to the other extreme, claiming, in a speech on youth crime, that, ‘the hoodie is a response to a problem, not a problem in itself…inside those boundaries we have to show a lot more love’. However, finding that such an approach did not work well outside the mansions of Notting Hill, Cameron has now gone back to preying on anti-immigrant hysteria.

It is not just that Cameron has flipped from rabid populism to libertarian elitism and back, there are also serious question marks about his ability to handle either foreign and economic policy viewing them both through the prism of cheap political point scoring. Although Cameron half-heartedly supported the war he has been quick to disassociate himself from it, claiming that ‘Issues that once divided Conservatives from Liberal Democrats are now issues where we both agree. Our attitude to devolution and localisation of power. Iraq’. Similarly, at a time when we need to work with America, Cameron has been willing to play party politics with the Special Relationship, claiming the government has been, ‘slavish in our friendship with America…..I fear that if we continue as at present we may combine the maximum of exposure with the minimum of real influence over decisions’. Although there were many reasons to criticise the decision to prop up Northern Rock, the Tories main criticism was the decision do so in a transparent manner, suggesting that under the Conservatives decisions regarding public money will be carried out in smoke-filled rooms.

So the government line of attack seems to be straightforward. They must keep Cameron’s numerous flip-flops and panders in the public eye while reminding people that Cameron, and the rest of the Conservative front-benchers, lack either the judgement or the moral compass to enable to the necessary tough decisions needed to promote Britain’s values and security. Of course this strategy will not work if the government, and Gordon Brown, doesn’t manage to articulate its own core values to the public at large. Tony Blair managed to win three elections by convincing the public, through both words and actions, that he was a man of principles and values. Although Gordon Brown has been in power for less than a year it is clear that he does best when he can articulate a vision for Britain’s future and connect it with his core beliefs and moral background. Since the government has rightly decided to retain a presence in Iraq and Afghanistan to continue to fight Al-Quaeda, it needs to make the moral and strategic necessity clearer to the wider public and contrast it with the Conservatives opportunistic (and short-sighted) take on foreign affairs.


One comment

  1. All very well – but Brown would be stepping on dangerous ground if he tried to explain WHY we need to stay in Iraq & Afghanistan. After all, wasn’t it due to Blair’s moral compass that we were there in the first place? And wasn’t that compass knocked for six by Brown’s cohorts and much of the press? And now Brown is to explain why Blair was right all along!?!

    If he tried that with me – that would be Labour out of the window for sure. The ploy – get rid of a strong leader – to replace him with a weak leader – who’ll pretend to be the strong leader.

    Come on!

    Apart from that, the press would murder him! If the Labour Left didn’t get there first.

    And yet, Cameron? What a choice.

    Come back Tony …

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