Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Magazine article The Spectator

The Spectator's Notes

Article excerpt

Hastings, the town where I was born and near which I live, is a marginal seat (Labour majority of 2,000). Since the election was called, I have been visiting it to 'take the temperature'. I follow a canvass, or stop people in the street and ask their opinion. In the first week, Labour was unpopular, the Tories were tepidly favoured and the Liberal Democrats were barely mentioned. This week, after the effects of the previous Thursday's leaders' debate, Labour was unpopular, the Tories were tepidly favoured, and the Liberal Democrats were up. Out of ten people I approached, one had deserted Labour for the Tories, one had deserted Labour for abstention, one had done the same for the Tories, and one had left Labour for the Liberals because of Nick Clegg's television performance. The rest were staying put. A Kurdish waiter, standing on top of a large rubbish bin to flatten cardboard boxes for recycling, shouted down to me that the only one worth anything was Tony Blair.

Then I went to a crowded hustings meeting in a church. 'Most of you remember the War, ' declared the Ukip candidate. Even in Hastings, this is not true. Michael Foster, the sitting, popular Labour MP, spoke. He was roundly booed about the deficit, but otherwise convinced people with his decency and humour. The Conservative candidate, Amber Rudd, was uncomfortable with the issues about faith and marriage which the rather godly audience raised. She was better on debt, government interference in teaching, voluntary work, and business, and the 'tax on jobs'. Nick Perry, the Liberal Democrat, was the least practised speaker, but he was the only one proud of his own party's manifesto, the only one feeling that his lot had nothing to apologise for. Obviously, this is because his party has never done anything but, in the eyes of significant numbers of voters, this is not a great objection. As the Tories correctly worked out before all this, people want, above all, a change. But they are so fed up that they include in what they want changed absolutely everything which they associate with power in this country. Unfortunately for the Tories, that still includes them.

On the morning after last Thursday's leaders' debate, I asked the Tory high command who was in charge of their Liberal Democrat unit, so that I could find out more details on how they proposed to counter attack. I was told that such a unit did not exist. The Conservatives had been facing the wrong way, like the guns at Singapore.

This is a powerful example of what happens when an organisation comes to believe its own propaganda. Under David Cameron, the Tories have quite rightly tried very hard to woo Liberal voters (they call it 'lovebombing'). With an eye to southern and West Country marginal seats, they tried to efface many of their more Gothic features which put potential Liberal defectors off. In this they were successful. But their success seems to have led them to believe that they could - even should - neglect the traditional political art of studying your opponent's weaknesses. Now they are terribly exposed.

There is a dreadful vanity in any political party which thinks that it should not go in for 'negative campaigning'. One's opponents invariably have negatives, and each party owes it to itself and to the public to point them out.

The Tories rely on the press to do their dirty work. …

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