Magazine article The Spectator

The Next Election Campaign Starts Now

Magazine article The Spectator

The Next Election Campaign Starts Now

Article excerpt

There has never been such a dramatic political decline. Three months ago, Tony Blair was full of plans for his third term. Now, he is a corpse waiting for a coffin. Three months ago, the Blairites were blithely dismissive of Gordon Brown. Now, they are frantically sucking up to him.

The PM may have been re-elected, but he has lost all moral authority. The voters are no longer listening; his party is no longer listening. We no longer have a Prime Minister; we merely have Hugh Grant's understudy. Mr Blair has also lost his political touch. Though he was never good at reshuffles, this one was the botch of botches. There was one positive feature. It reaffirmed the government's commitment to recycling rubbish. But Mr Blair even managed to sack Paul Murphy, one of his few successful Cabinet ministers, replacing him in Ulster with Peter Hain. It is impossible to conceive of a worse appointment. The choice of Mr Hain suggests that Mr Blair is losing interest in governing, as does the decision to send John Prescott to Moscow. There was a time when that might have been appropriate. Mr Prescott docs look like an old-fashioned politburo wife. But to represent HMG at one of the most important celebrations in modern Russian history: ludicrous. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, as opposed to going through the motions, he would have known whom to send: himself. If he cannot even get that right, he will not get anything right and the quicker he goes the better.

So a lot of Tories are now assuming that the next election is already won. That might sound absurdly rash, yet it could turn out to be true, subject to a few, by no means impossible, conditions. To ensure a victory, the Tories have to take steps, but none of them is that difficult. They must win the battle for history, bury the 'c' word and use the correct version of a Latin tag.

Traditional Tories did not care who wrote political history as long as they were the ones who made it. Then New Labour realised that in order to influence the vote, you must capture the narrative. That recent political concept is viewed with suspicion by Peter Oborne and others, who associate it with New Labour lies. Yet there is no reason that the Tories should not prevail by telling a truthful narrative. It would run something like this. New Labour came to power with a sincere desire to reform the public services. But the task proved too much for them. They allowed themselves to be seduced from the hard challenges to the easy lure of spin and headlines. Eight years later, this has demoralised the Civil Service, corrupted the governmental process and wasted a great deal of money.

That last point is crucial. I doubt if one voter in ten knows just how much money this government is spending. The Tories must tell them, eschewing the jargon of billions and percentages of GDP. The figure is nearly £600,000,000,000. Once it is set out like that on the page, it looks like an interminable freight train. There is another way of expressing it: more than £10,000 a year for every man, woman and child in the country. I found it a useful canvassing aid to point out to a family of four that the government was spending £40,000 a year on their behalf and to ask whether they were receiving value for money. The answer was predictable. If those two facts, the £10,000 and the six plus all the noughts, are implanted in the voters' minds, it will never again be possible for Labour politicians to claim that public expenditure is a frail plant which would not survive a Tory government. …

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