Posts Tagged ‘Tim Montgomerie’

Cameron’s on the ropes, but he will last the distance

21/07/2011, 04:13:40 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The parliamentary recess will be greeted by the prime minister in exactly the same way a wounded boxer welcomes the end of a gruelling round. Winded, bloodied and blurry-eyed, the prime minister staggers back to his corner. His legs are like lead. His arms ache. His body is battered and sore.

He put up a spirited defence in the Commons yesterday – penance for bobbing and weaving out of fronting-up the hacking issue on behalf of the government these past few weeks – but he is behind on points.

Despite his combativeness and bluster the reigning champ looked ring rusty. Belligerent where he should have been contrite, he struggled to read the fight and walked on the end of punches he is seasoned enough to avoid. His pledge to apologise if Andy Coulson is eventually found guilty of sanctioning phone hacking simply risks storing up the mea culpa to end all apologies.

“I’m enjoying this” he proclaimed amid the stinging blows; (an insensitive boast given the thousands of innocent victims swept in the phone hacking scandal) and a curious formulation for an under-fire Tory leader as it was last used by Margaret Thatcher in her swansong Commons performance.

Cameron’s technique, punching power and the strength of his chin have all been sorely tested these past few weeks – and more often than not they have been found lacking. As the unfortunate British heavyweight David Haye found to his cost against Wladimir Klitschko the other week, talking a good fight is not enough. (more…)

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Much obliged, m’lord Ashcroft

06/06/2011, 12:00:28 PM

by Rob Marchant

On discovering, via Tim Montgomerie’s Saturday piece, that Michael Ashcroft has commissioned a report into the future of the Labour party, one’s immediate reaction is that it was exceptionally kind of him. After all, as Montgomerie points out, the party is not exactly awash with cash at the moment to do its own polling. Really a very public-spirited action by the noble Lord.

All right, perhaps Ashcroft is not really bankrolling a report for our benefit. It is of great political value to the Tories to show Labour to be out of touch and polling poorly. But you know what the smart thing for us to do would be? It would be to read it very carefully anyway. And the article is a good starting point. It is uncomfortable reading, naturally, but it is always a position of strength to listen to adverse criticism, especially when it’s based on the opinion of ordinary people. And it is always a position of weakness to ignore it.

Wisdom from the Daily Mail, you say? Free your mind. Montgomerie is an intelligent Tory: strip out the partisan from the adverse criticisms made in the first half of the piece, and what’s left is a pretty objective, if ruthless, analysis.

At the very highest level, there are two things any politician needs to get right in order to attain or keep power: the policy thing; and the non-policy thing. It would be great if we were elected purely on our policies; but to think so is dangerously naïve. There is a range of other factors which can make a big difference. Aside from public perception of the leader, we have public perception of other key figures, historical context, current economic situation, expectations of the future and so on. And these things tend to apply irrespective of political stripe.

The policy thing you can never get much out of through a Tory prism. Montgomerie himself is a full-blooded Tory on touchstone issues such as Europe; therefore such issues, irrespective of whether the public is bothered about them, are talked up, as we would talk up ours. No, we can mostly skip the policy part.

However, on the non-policy areas, the piece makes for some interesting points. First it reinforces what the personal attack line will be: it characterises Ed Miliband, simply, as odd. Now, the Red Ed approach was always too glib and too visibly inappropriate to stick, but Odd Ed – well, it’s cleverer and more effective. Instead of angrily rejecting the personal attack – after all, a fact of political life – we should do what grown-ups do: calmly clock it; analyse it; and deal with it.

None of us can do much about the way we look or sound; but Ed does need to work on how he comes across on television. More personable bloke from the pub, if you like, and less policy wonk or visionary Martin Luther King. Reagan, Clinton and Bush Jr. all had one thing in common: they were people the American public felt they could have a beer with. There is something important in that attack line that needs to be neutralised.

Next, the low personal poll rating is brought up, as per last week’s poll. Again, this should be a concern, but it is not an insurmountable one: there is still time to change it. More importantly, he admonishes Labour for giving the impression of returning to being a party of protest, of student politics. That stings, but it’s also credible, if we review with realism the overall impression left by the March 26 demo (and, while there are undoubtedly other factors, it is at least an interesting coincidence that the month following the London demo was the month our poll lead there abruptly evaporated).

Not everything is accurate about the analysis. For example, Montgomerie adversely criticises Miliband’s failure to reform his party, and here he is wrong: it is simply not possible to reform a political party in eight months (although if he means challenge the party, that is a different matter). But one final adverse criticism is insightful:

“By the early stages of his leadership, David Cameron had been sending mega-watt messages to voters on issues such as the NHS, the environment and fighting poverty — whether you agreed with them or not, they all energetically suggested that he was a very different kind of Conservative”.

The vital subtext here is this: Cameron was prepared to bypass the conventional wisdom of his own party to tell the public what they needed to hear: that his party had changed.

And here is the crux of the matter. Cameron did it. Blair did it with clause four. Thatcher did it against the wets. Once done, all of their positions became secure. All of our leaders, in winning power from opposition, have to do it, usually shortly after becoming leader: it is difficult to argue that Ed should be an exception.

A message of change has been there, yes. But it has been muted, a little fuzzy and, most importantly, directed more at the party and core Labour supporters than at the wider public and swing voters. The public can’t see what’s changed and, if they see anything, they likely see a swing to the left, away from them.

All of this non-policy analysis by the Tories is interesting and useful, precisely because it is largely dispassionate: they have no reason to be nice. It may not all be right, but we could do much worse than to go through it carefully in search of learning points. Because sometimes your worst enemy will tell you the home truth that your best friend won’t.

So, thank you, Lord Ashcroft, for all your hard work on our behalf. You’ve whetted our appetite, now if you could just send the full report to Labour Uncut, we’d be much obliged. We’ll pay the postage.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left.

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