Retoxifying the Brand

That’s enough pointing-and-laughing at the British National Party for a while. Now for a bit of pointing and laughing at the Tories…

I’ve never had much time for Cameron and Clegg, with Cameron modelling himself on Blair, and Clegg on Cameron. But what the election campaign is bringing out is the extent to which Cameron was only ever offering the most fraudulent impersonation of Blair, and that it’s because of this that the Clegg-as-Cameron strategy is working out so very nicely for the Liberal Democrats.

The reason Blair was far more successful as a centrist politician than Cameron is managing to be is that he went out of his way to humiliate the Left of his party in public as a part of his move to the right. He chose to pick fights that he really didn’t have to fight, with the result that it made it all much easier for former Conservative voters to think that it was safe to vote Labour after all.

Cameron, by contrast, has made a lot of centrist noises, and he’s done various things that the Tory headbanger tendency doesn’t much like (stuff on the website about tackling homophobic bullying in schools, running more women candidates or candidates from ethnic minorities in winnable seats, banging on about the environment, usw), but he’s never seriously tried to stage a meaningful fight with the party’s Right, to lure them out into the open, and to slap them down in public. Bullying Norfolk South West into having Liz Truss as their PPC just doesn’t count, and when the Right tried to bully him, making it a condition of its support in the leadership campaign that he pledged to quit the European People’s Party in the European Parliament, he was happy to fall in line.  And one consequence of this kind of thing is that voters find it harder to take his centrist pretensions especially seriously.

And this is why Clegg is doing so well. Cameron’s strategy has been to try to bring centrist-minded, middle-class, non-lunatic voters into the Conservative orbit, and to fight the election as if this is the key demographic, but if you’re a C-M, M-C, N-L voter, and you want to vote for that kind of thing, there’s no good reason not to vote for the real thing (Clegg) rather than the dubious fraud (Cameron). Cameron’s only pretending to be Blair, and that’s what’s making it easy for Clegg to be what Cameron would like to be, but can’t, a politician operating entirely comfortably on the terrain of what we might call the centre-centre-right of British politics.

So we have the happy result that John Major won 31% in 1997, William Hague won 32% in 2001, Michael Howard won 33% in 2005, and David Cameron’s ‘decontaminated’ Tories are heading for, um, 34% in 2010. At this rate it’ll be another quarter century or so before they’re in spitting distance of a parliamentary majority. Happy days.

3 thoughts on “Retoxifying the Brand”

  1. I wish I shared your optimism. i think that as the novelty wears off, quite a few of these LibDem voters will drift to the Conservatives. and the Labour campaign seems to have consisted of nothng but Peter Mandelson telling everyone how wonderful the Liberals are. The Labour Party could end up third and out as a result of all this.

  2. “Happy days.”

    On the flip-side, 358 are calculating that the Tories win 100 more seats than Labour, with a humiliating third-place finish for the latter.

    After last night’s debate – when even though Brown actually performed pretty well, he simply couldn’t break through the fact that people just hate him – it looks like Labour’s biggest mistake post-2007 was not ditching Dumbo Gordon.

    Whereas the Tories could crash and burn in 1997 but still make something like a recovery, Labour now also has to factor-in the fact that the Lib Dems are no longer the ignored third party. This election could be disastrous for the party, if they are squeezed out by the LDs. Of course, it could also be disastrous for the Tories – the kind of spending cuts they are going to have to push through are going to devastate what little popularity they have at present.

    Not getting rid of Dumbo Gordon looks like it’s going to cost Labour hard, because he himself is just so hated that the party as a whole may crash hard next week.

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