“Same old Tories” doesn’t tell me much

by Ray Filar

“Same old taxes, same old Tories”. Ed Miliband’s response to the chancellor’s “budget for growth” last week was characterised by an aggressive, knowing ennui. It was as if Miliband had cast himself as an aging prima donna reclining on a (red) velvet chaise-longue, warning her child away from an only seemingly reformed no-good suitor. “I know what they’re like, you know what they’re like”, he seemed to be saying. Don’t be fooled by “friendly” George’s marriage proposal, also known as his budget for “growth”. He’s still the same man who stole your money to buy a dead puppy as a present for your sister.

The presumption Miliband and his speechwriters are making is that we do know what the Conservatives are like; that we will easily remember what they’re like if we cast our collective minds back to 1997 when they were last in government (or when they last proposed to us, depending on how long this analogy can be dragged out). This message was clearest during one of the speech’s defining moments, in which, against a supportive background of taunts and cheers from buoyed-up Labour ministers, Miliband described Osborne as embodying the “hubris and arrogance of the early 1990s, the same broken promises…he’s Norman Lamont with an iPod”.

Big words. In fact, pretty funny words, if you know who Norman Lamont is. Presumably the majority of MPs can remember, but during the time of the last Tory government I personally was more interested in learning to read and tie my shoes up unaided than in keeping abreast of party politics. That’s not to say that it takes longer than three seconds to google Norman Lamont, but, in terms of making what should be an easy appeal to an increasingly large base of dispossessed young voters whose political consciousness wasn’t fully formed during the 90s, he shouldn’t think that “same old Tories” hits hard without proper explication. He can’t assume that we all have politics degrees, particularly now that nobody can afford a degree.

Of course, for every potential young Labourite for whom “classic Tory con” means at least a week in the (soon-to-be-closed) library, there are many more who internalised Thatcher-hatred, if not Major-hatred, with their mother’s blissfully unsnatched milk.

Neither should Miliband focus only on the young to the exclusion of anybody born before 1970. But if the point is to win over those wavering in their support for the coalition, he should consider that reiterating that the Tories haven’t really changed speaks only to those who were won over by Cameron’s “progressive Conservatism” election campaign. Nobody who has read a newspaper in the last year can be fooling themselves that there is anything progressive about this government’s programme.

Miliband needs to find more imaginative ways to convey more clearly exactly what the broken promises and economic deceits of this government are. A great example of this in his anti-budget speech was the line he nicked from the institute of fiscal studies, that the budget gives with one hand, and “takes away with lots and lots of other hands”. This calls to mind an illustration of the government as an amorphous, ACME-white-gloved-hands machine which is figurative enough to give some substance to figures about fuel duty drops and VAT rises. The slogan “too far and too fast” is also relatively credible, however much it sounds like an adolescent sexual encounter, or the working title of the misogynist car-chase film The Fast and the Furious.

As well as pointing out what the problems with Tory-Lib Dem policy are, a better, clearer explication of Labour’s economic alternative to the “budget for growth” would be most welcome. Indeed, the huge support that resulted in at least a 250,000 person turn-out for the march for the alternative is not at all surprising. It is clear that if there are alternatives. We want to hear about them, and we want to hear about them in a detailed, extensive, well-publicised way, preferably published in the form of a weighty tome that can be used for the purposes of hitting Nick Clegg.

“Same old Tories” preaches only to the converted. In a time of opposition, this is not enough.

Ray Filar blogs here.

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6 Responses to ““Same old Tories” doesn’t tell me much”

  1. Vishal says:

    You do realise most voters still remember how most of your criticism applied to the Labour govt.? We still haven’t forgotten so soon -> broken promises (no top up fees?), giving with one hand and taking away with many -> where do I start?
    Be honest please.
    Libraries closing are decisions of individual councils.
    Councils which are still paying their heads hundreds of thousands of pounds.

    I voted for Blair – I will never vote Labour again till they acknowledge they got us into this mess.

    You spent money like there is no tomorrow. And the money was taxpayers’ money, not yours to spend. You spent money that you had to borrow – are we mugs not to realise how much we have to pay now in interest?

    Most households and private companies woke up to reality 2-3 years ago and started spending more carefully. Labour never did. Unions still haven’t, and demand above inflation pay hikes. And you still expect us to think of Labour as ‘progressive’?

  2. AnneJGP says:

    A thought-provoking article, Ray.

    From what you say, it sounds as though Labour politicians have been carried away by the success of the “Thatcher hate figure” myths and assume that all other ministers who were prominent at the time are remembered. They aren’t. (Norman Lamont? Who?)

    You also say Mr Miliband “should consider that reiterating that the Tories haven’t really changed speaks only to those who were won over by Cameron’s “progressive Conservatism” election campaign.

    IIRC, the opinion polls seemed to show that the election campaign reduced the Conservatives’ support, so there may be very few people indeed in this category. You surely can’t be unaware that the strongest feeling before the GE was anti-Labour government, rather than pro-Conservative party.

    This matters because one of the biggest challenges facing Mr Miliband is to convince the voters that the Labour party has changed. If he manages to convince the electorate that the Conservative party hasn’t changed a bit over a 13-year period, don’t you think he may be giving them reason to assume that the Labour party won’t have changed in 5 years?

    On Labour’s economic alternative, I have just been complimenting Sally Bercow for coming up with an excellent analogy for tackling the deficit. In her Labour-Uncut article today she writes:
    “A greater focus on and investment in “powering down” is needed; we must reduce energy consumption – not least by embarking on a nationwide refit of homes, which leak energy to a shameful degree (£1 in every £4 we spend on heating is wasted).”

    That “£1 in every £4” is a gift. Some months ago there was an exchange on here which clearly showed that Labour’s economic position is losing out because it doesn’t have a common sense “household analogy” and the government position does. I think it has definite possibilities for showing people like me how Labour’s position is underpinned by common sense.

  3. Richard says:

    “And the money was taxpayers’ money, not yours to spend.”

    Yes Vishal, your money and mine, invested in rebuilding and regenerating public services that had been driven into the ground after 18 years of Tory neglect.

    As for your demand for Labour accepting some of the responsibility (a vast proportion has to shared by others too), well you clearly don’t read the newspapers or watch/listen to political braodcasts nearly enough; Labour has acknowledged its part. You’ve been droning on about the same thing for months; now try opening your eyes and ears.

  4. Dean says:

    I am sick to death of hearing EM continually firing things at PMQ’s such as “you’re cutting too much, too fast” without proffering any evidence, ideas or alternatives. If EM wants to improve his party image then perhaps rather than just saying that the cuts are wrong and not required, perhaps he could PROVE why they are wrong and not required and present the British people with an alternative.

    Then we can get the OBR to check it. If he’s alright with that, of course.

  5. WHS says:

    It is unsurprising Ed Miliband seems only to preach to the converted. After all this is the man who said David Cameron doesn’t understand the man in the street and when asked why, smirked “Because he’s a Tory.”

    I think it shows a greater lack of understanding of the man in the street if Miliband thinks “But they’re Tories!” is the way to win him over.

    This may play well in the student union bar (or in the UKUncut executive – probably the same thing) where any subject can be waved away with “It’s the Tories” and everyone will knowingly understand that all Tories are fascists and bastards, but one might expect better than student politics out of a Leader of the Opposition.

  6. Raydith Butler? says:

    This is the best piece of journalism I’ve ever read.

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