This curious Tory campaign is coming to us from another country

by Jonathan Todd

Famously, the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there. In that country, they have naked women on Page 3 of The Sun. That publication peddles lies about football fans crushed on the terraces of Hillsborough. And claims to be able to determine the outcome of general elections.

That which largely went unquestioned in 1992 would not do so in 2015. The Sun has changed to survive in a changed country. In such a country, it may not necessarily follow that treatment for Ed Miliband akin to that which Neil Kinnock endured in 1992 will contribute to the same electoral outcome.

The fears about Kinnock that the Conservatives and their supporters in the media were then able to arouse chimed with underlying public perceptions. It may be that attacks like those of Michael Fallon on Miliband will again tap into deep seated fears about Labour.

Equally, reflecting on Miliband’s improving personal ratings, Damian Lyons Lowe, founder and chief executive of Survation, concluded, “people like the happy warrior”. If Fallon were mainlining fears in the same way that the Tories did during the 1992 campaign, we might expect Miliband’s ratings to be going in the other direction.

The Tory brand is also not as robust as it was in 1992. This weakness – the persistence of the “nasty party” perception – is one of the reasons that I have anticipated Labour victory this year. When brands have limited purchase, their capacity to impact how other brands are perceived is also undermined.

If you go round slinging dead cats on tables, people will think, “these are the kind of people who sling dead cats on tables”. Boris Johnson – whom David Aaronovitch recently described as being “like a man who breaks wind in a lift and everyone wonders what smells so good” – could sling a dozen dead cats on the table. And we’d all laugh. Then ask him to do it again.

But, mercifully for Labour, the Conservative brand is much less strong than the Boris brand. Many who’d laugh along with Boris slinging dead cats on tables, take umbrage with the Tories doing so. According to Matthew Parris, if Tories canvassed in the same tone and spirit as Fallon’s intervention, voters would be left on the doorstep thinking, “this guy’s intolerant, and oversimplifying horribly. Do the Tories take me for an idiot?”

Taking people for idiots is a recurring Tory theme. Marina Hyde writes of the Prime Minister, David Cameron, taking apprentices in Nottingham for idiots. Maybe Hyde tires of journalists like her still being taken for idiots by Cameron, as he persists with his abrupt walk-off technique, compounding a failure to repeat the leaders’ debates of 2010, which follows a long-standing aversion to the frequency of prime ministerial press conferences that were standard under the last government. The public must also tire of being taken for idiots by Cameron’s party with their unfunded NHS and rail commitments, which risks harm to the core Conservative strength of supposedly knowing how sums add up.

If you go around taking people for idiots, while obsessing over the supposed weirdness of Miliband, people will get round to thinking you haughty and obsessed and as a result, weird. All of which compounds the Tory brand problem, while putting Miliband in a position where he is able to exploit another factor that points toward Labour victory: leadership.

Under attack from Fallon, Miliband had public licence to defend himself. That he did so in a firm but dignified manner, calling Fallon a decent man, left him looking statesmanlike, as Fallon, a supposedly safe pair of Tory hands, appeared petty and ungracious. The Tories had failed to learn from the crude attack of the Daily Mail upon Miliband’s father that when unreasonably attacked, Miliband is capable of emerging looking more like a leader.

The Mail was at it again this week, desperately trying to make something of the nothing much exceptional of Miliband’s sex life. We would have had to have been much more prudish and naive than we now are for this kind of stuff to have had any traction in 1992. But I doubt that we were.

I doubt Australia is either. I doubt anywhere is. These matters are pretty primeval, after all. But I don’t know for certain Australia is not like this. Because I do not know Australia in my gut, as only Australians, like Lynton Crosby, the Conservative electoral strategist, do. Even in our globalised age, much cultural knowledge is tacit and embedded. It’s hard enough to have a decent appreciation for the ways in which societies in which we’ve been immersed for lifetimes are evolving. Never mind societies on the other side of the world.

There is a curious lack of subtly to the Tory campaign, a rigid presumption, a bizarre determination to squander the advantages that they hold and to create circumstances that play well for Miliband. It is such an odd and unconvincing campaign that it is almost as if it is being directed by someone from another country, who doesn’t really understand this one. I’m just not sure whether that country is Australia 2015 or UK 1992.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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4 Responses to “This curious Tory campaign is coming to us from another country”

  1. wg says:

    Yes, well – politicians throw dirt at each other, who’d have thought it.

    Meanwhile – this country has a PFI bill of £222bn, my Labour council has built up a massive bureaucracy – complete with CEOs, Directors, and city centre managers – some earning more than the Prime Minister himself, all of whom never fail to remind the street-level plebs that we are living through a period of imposed austerity.

    “taken for idiots”? – We are – by the whole stinking lot of you.

    Is there a Labour Party out there somewhere?

  2. swatantra says:

    Its a really odd Election; I’ve not known any like it before. Its as though the electorate is sleepwalking through it all. There really isn’t any passion, or real enthusiasm in it, apart from that generated by the Political Parties, I can’t say the electorate are that much interested, and the reason may be that the outcome will be more of the same again for the next 5 years whichever Party is lucky enough to cobble together a Coalition.

  3. Madasafish says:

    “Literally we would not know what we were voting for if we were going to vote for Labour.”

    Obfuscation seems to be the name of the Labour game on their weakest area.

  4. John Ried says:

    Recall the Sun,backed Wilson ,when he lost to Ted Heath in 1970′ Backed Heath when he lost to Wilson in Feb 74′ and they couldn’t get Cameron ,in,in2010

    Naked woman,would imply,lower parts,which they’ve never printed, Hislborough ,is just one incident

    Regarding the election if the Tories can push the idea, that the last Labur governments spending, caused the cuts now,and if Labpur got in ,spent what we didn’t have,then all the suffering of the cuts over the last 5 years, would be wasted if we went broke in 2020 ,and if the Tories got back in,in 2020′ then the cuts then would be savage, compared to now,

    And whatever the polls in the next few weeks reveal, the fear of voting for a party that would waste all the hardship we’d had, by causing more, debt,would be, suicide,

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