Kicking A Man When He’s Down

From yesterday’s Independent:

The Tories need to understand the appeal of Jamie Oliver if they are reconnect with voters, Andrew Lansley, a contender for the Conservative leadership, said.Mr Lansley, who is challenging Kenneth Clarke to become the champion of the centre-left in the struggle to stop David Davis, said the Tories were out of touch with ordinary voters and seen as too extreme.

In a sideswipe at his former shadow cabinet colleague, Tim Collins, who held the education portfolio, Mr Lansley said: “When Jamie Oliver captured exactly what millions of parents felt about school food, did they hear us respond?

“Where, in our 10 words, was the recognition that family is the backbone of a strong society?”

What’s all this about “our ten words”? Is this a new BBC policy acknowledging the irrelevance of the Conservative Party which means that Tories only get ten words in which to say what they think, to avoid wasting the time of the rest of us? (How many words do the Lib Dems get?)Given that “the family is the backbone of a strong society” is nine words, to Tories might want to turn their attention now to thinking about how they choose that all-important tenth word, which might be the one to make all the difference.

Slightly less frivolously, I think Lansley’s missing the point here. He thinks that if Tories say bland twaddle like “the family is the backbone of a strong society” again and again and again, and jump on populist bandwagons like the Jamie Oliver School Dinners bandwagon, then the Great British Public will pay attention and Vote Conservative.

I think that’s nonsense.

The reason it was useful for certain Labour front-benchers to say “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” obsessively in the mid-1990s was that the Party was trying to challenge a public perception of it as being (rightly or wrongly) soft on crime, and obsessive repetition works pretty well in that particular context. But I don’t think there’s any evidence that people aren’t voting Conservative because they think that the Tories don’t think that the F is the B of an S S (though it would be funny if there were).

And if Shadow Ministers keep saying dull things like “the F is the B of an S S”, the media will tend to ignore them and go back to talking to Jamie Oliver, who created the story in the first place, and who will be much more interesting to talk to.

It’s a striking feature of contemporary politics that the Government generally only gets into difficulties when other people not the Tories cause trouble for them, whether Lord Butler, Jamie Oliver or, most recently, the Parliamentary Ombudsman, and the Tories rarely make any real contribution to accentuating the Government’s difficulties on these occasions.

The exception, I suppose, is David Davis’s removal of Beverley Hughes, through cunning parliamentary manoeuvrings rather than through soundbite politics — and such is the desperate condition of the Tory Party these days that bagging the relatively trivial scalp of a junior minister might be one of the things that propels him to the Party leadership, where, I think we can safely say, he will become the fourth Tory leader in a row not to make it through the door of No. 10.

(Why am I thinking about Andrew Lansley and David Davis? I must have better things to do with my time. Yes: I do. Good.)

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