An Implosion Once Started Almost Always Completes
April 9, 2015
by Martin Odoni
It has so far been an utterly dire Conservative Election campaign planned out by Lynton Crosby and Grant Shapps, and it perhaps reflects the ugliness of the two men’s characters – their cynicism, their shameless deceitfulness, their controlling, bullying tendencies, their school playground demeanour.
The cynicism is reflected in the absolute void of policy proposals so far; scarcely a hint of positive campaigning can be found in Tory announcements since Parliament was dissolved.
The deceitfulness is reflected in the constant scare-stories that they keep trying to circulate about opponents – especially Ed Miliband of whom they are now clearly terrified – that are routinely shot down and debunked before they can get their pants on (to paraphrase an old saying that usually implies the reverse), as well as the laughably-obvious ‘set-piece‘ publicity stunts they keep resorting to that, they wrongly imagine, make Tory support appear far greater than it really us.
The controlling, bullying tendencies are embodied in just how personal and even ad hominem some of the negative campaigning has been, just the latest and worst of which has been Michael Fallon’s real ‘cheap-shot’ at Miliband for, supposedly, ‘stabbing his brother in the back’ to become Labour leader. (By ‘stabbing his brother in the back’, Fallon of course means, ‘defeated his brother fair-and-square in a straightforward leadership election’. Otherwise, David Cameron must have stabbed David Davies in the back in 2005.) The matter under discussion was whether the UK should renew the Trident missile defence system, and the relevance to that of Miliband’s path to the Labour leadership is so slight that Fallon should have lost his job for using such an obviously crude and insulting non-argument. The tendencies are also reflected in the glaring over-orchestration of general Tory activity, which has been almost mechanical, as this amusing meme demonstrated in the aftermath of the ITV Leaders Debate c/o Buzzfeed; –
The school playground demeanour has been reflected in angry jeering, and the habit of defending the indefensible once the mudslinging has already happened.
And none of it has done the Tories any good at all. It has been the campaign of a 1980’s football hooligan, and it has led to brow-raising news in the opinion polls. Labour now have a three-to-six-point lead in some polls, and Ed Miliband, for the very first time, is even ahead of Cameron in the party leader-approval ratings; –
To give Ed Miliband his due, his profile has definitely been on the rise since at least the turn-of-the-year (Easter transgression apart), and he is now ahead of David Cameron for the first time in the personal poll. (It needs to be noted that this does not mean that most people think Miliband would make a better Prime Minister – Cameron still has a comfortable twelve-point lead on that score – but they do think he is making a better fist of the narrower job of party leader.) There is no doubt that Miliband has really started to do the job for more effectively than he was for the first couple of years. He has looked cool, assured, even statesmanlike, in the face of all the shameful hostility that has been thrown at him.
But at the same time, Miliband’s ‘leapfrog’ over Cameron in the polls is as much a reflection of how appallingly weak and tired Cameron’s recent efforts have been. Miliband has even been able to afford a very slight dip in approval since Easter, probably due to that needless swipe at the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, because Cameron’s approval ratings have slumped very quickly, and could be poised to go into free-fall if he fails to get his act together. Partly, people seem to be reacting to his aloof, cowardly reluctance to take part in the televised debates, and also to his awful showing in the one debate he dared take part in. But also playing a likely role in Cameron’s woes is the suffocating negativity, constant fakery, and exceeding stage-management of the Tories’ overall campaign. People are noticing it, and they dislike it.
Labour’s campaign has been far from perfect, but it has shown more flexibility, more energy, more initiative by far, and has at least been positive enough to come up with a policy idea or two.
There is a real danger that the Tories could go into meltdown, unless they change their approach by one hundred-and-eighty degrees. The problem they have given themselves is that they decided to go for an all-out “We-really-are-the-Nasty-Party-now-what-you-gonna-do-about-it?” stance from the get-go. They almost look like they want to get in a physical punch-up with the Labour front benches, instead of the Election. Their bearing and body-language are negative, macho, posturing, jeering, deceitful, petulant. That can work, it saddens me to say, but it has to be done very carefully and precisely so that it definitely lands some heavy blows on the other parties, and it has to hit all its targets straight from the off. Instead, the early attacks by the Tories have all been very clumsy and transparent, and so have not only failed to hit any of Labour’s weak spots, but have backfired outright.
So instead of looking tough and in control, the Tories’ conduct has made them look like childish, clumsy, jeering hooligans. That is bound to distort people’s perception of everything the Tories do from here-on. Even if they do start landing some genuine verbal blows on Labour, people will still see them through the distorting lens of bullying hooligans. Even when a criticism from the Tories is justified, it will still look unpleasant and distasteful, instead of fair or reasonable. So the Tories will not advance themselves, even when they can peg Labour back a bit. Therefore, Cameron and his advisors have to dream up a full, active and positive policy program to fight the rest of the campaign on, and they have a little over three weeks in which to do it. Given Election campaigns by even the most competent parties normally take years to organise and deploy the needed resources, there is practically no chance of the ragtag collection of buffoons who make up the modern Conservative Party managing it in three weeks. As things stand, it is a party that can offer nothing but five more years of hardship, and has no strategy to speak of except the telling of lies. The party’s campaign is imploding, and the perception they have created of themselves among the wider public will make that implosion continue.
Therefore, there is no chance of the Tories winning the Election on their own merits. They can only win by other parties’ showing lack-of-merit. That can still happen of course, but it should not.
So for better or worse, the 2015 General Election is now Ed Miliband’s to lose.