by Jonathan Todd
This was the week that the supposed Long Term Economic Plan (LTEP) gave way to short term miscalculation. The question is whether it will have a resonance deep enough to reach beyond the narrow cadre of the politically obsessed and long enough to be felt on 7 May.
It was a good week for Labour. And there are precious few weeks left before the election. The Tory plan was to stuff them full of LTEP. Park a bus of LTEP on the playing field of the election and close off all Labour routes to goal. Lynton Crosby as José Mourinho. But the wheels have looked like they are falling off the Tory bus.
“You had one job,” Crosby must ruefully lament. Instead of LTEP, Cameron needlessly diminished himself by triggering speculation about the Tory leadership and increased agitation among the runners and riders to focus on positioning in this race. It’s akin to John Terry tossing aside mid-match the armband that denotes the Chelsea captain.
That Cameron holds a commanding poll lead over Miliband on prime ministerial suitability is as much a foundation of the Tory campaign as Terry’s belligerent authority is of Chelsea’s strategy. Cameron calculates that this advantage is too precious to be risked in a head-to-head debate with Miliband. We might see more – as Stephen Bush puts it – Dirk Kuyt type antics from Miliband, dramatically improving his performance at key moments, a la the ex Liverpool striker. Yet it was nothing Kuyt-like from Miliband that raised questions about Cameron’s leadership. It was what the prime minister himself needlessly said to the BBC.
George Osborne managed to avoid an omnishambles in the last Budget of this Parliament. He pulled few rabbits from his hat. He made himself at home in LTEP’s parked bus. And in doing so, many thought he’d set the electoral terms of debate. This presumption underestimated Tory capacity for cock up.
While the spectacular defeat for the government in their attempt to change the rules on election of the speaker will likely alter no general election votes, it was an unnecessary distraction. There is speculation that this was recognised by Tories defending marginal seats.
These Tories know that their thwarted defenestration of John Bercow was as productive a use of time as Chelsea players squabbling over their preferred kit man (or woman) on the eve of a match. The kit man (or woman) matters. We couldn’t expect the wages of the players to stretch to laying out their own their kit. They’d be at risk of running out naked if left to their own witless devices. The speaker matters too. The commons would be as unseemly as twenty two naked men chasing a ball without the speaker’s moderation. But no one can name of the Chelsea kit man (or woman). Just as debates about the speaker are an unregistered abstraction to 99.9 per cent of voters.
In messing about with the cog in the machine that is the speaker, the Tories deployed the “tinkerman” tactics of Claudio Ranieri, one of Mourinho’s predecessors as Chelsea manager, as oppose to the crushing, bus parking ways of the Portuguese. If they are capable of doing Ranieri when their intension is to be Mourinho, their befuddlement has no depths.
In his book on winners, which I won in the raffle at a fundraiser for the Dulwich and West Norwood (DaWN) Labour Party last week, Alastair Campbell compares Mourinho to Ho Chi Minh. “He was pragmatic to the last, in the international diplomatic arena and on the war fields of Indochina”. You’d know where you stood with Mourinho in the trenches too. But increasingly not with the Tories. It is unclear who is in charge and they remain capable of dropping the ball.
The Tories won – just about – the war of 2010, fought against the backdrop of the financial crisis, but they are struggling to win the peace of 2015, an election that cries out for an optimistic vision of the country that we could become as the financial crisis recedes to memory, a future which no one now seems capable of giving traction to.
YouGov have ran 8 polls of voting intention since I last wrote about their tracker. These 8 polls give Labour an average lead of 0.5 per cent. In contrast, the 12 polls in March that preceded them came to a statistical tie between the Tories and Labour. 7 of the 8 also averaged to a statistical tie. It was the Sunday Times poll that pushed Labour into an average of a 0.5 per cent lead over the 8 polls.
Another YouGov tracker reveals a record high for this parliament in the proportion of the electorate reporting the economy as doing well. No big jump. It just nudged up to 31 per cent, having had 3 entries at 30 per cent, continuing its long, slow ascent.
This ascent plus the parked bus of LTEP should spell trouble for Labour but this ascent may not matter if Crosby cannot quickly get the wheels back on the bus. The buzz of the DaWN dinner – where comedian Jo Brand, outgoing MPs Tessa Jowell and Frank Dobson, and PPC Helen Hayes were warmly received – betrayed a party that feels on power’s threshold. This week of Tory shambles justifies this confidence.
Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut