Much is being made of Lord Mandelson’s period at the helm of the Labour Party, but nohing which ought to worry or concern Conservatives.
Peter Mandelson, fresh from declaring he wasnt in charge at the end of last week, has taken control of the Labour government while Gordon Brown pursues the preferred policy of hiding, hoping people will forget what a feckless cretin he is. While Brown is dodging the cameras, Lord Mandelson of Dodgy Passport and interesting mortgage arrangement infamy has been running around, trying his best to lay political traps for Conservatives to walk into. ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie has dissected Mandelson’s latest venom-ridden piece, and used it to quite efficiently show the six likely lines of labour attack on Tories in the run-up to conference season.
Whilst I think Tim is essentially right on the money for his article, as he often is, I simply wish in this post to develop further the arguments he makes. Tim’s comments in pink, mine in mint.
Dissecting Mandelson’s article in today’s Guardian:
- “To be a progressive is to believe that we can make a better society and improve the conditions of individual lives by acting together… Osborne doesn’t believe this and couldn’t speak about it with conviction.” This is crude personal abuse. How does Mandelson know what George Osborne believes?
In addition, progressive politics are ill-defined here, and rely on a concept of collective action from the state. It’s a throw-away in a sense, simply a carrier for the cripplingly personal payload at the end.
- “Osborne simply defines progressive to mean whatever the Tories believe this month.” This is the Tories are constantly changing their beliefs attack. We tried it against Blair in 1997 and it didn’t wash. Voters don’t mind politicians whose views have genuinely evolved. The Cameroons have been remarkably consistent in pursuing their gentler, greener Conservatism since 2005.
In addition to Tim’s argument, this is extremely easy to counter, pointing out that Labour beliefs haven’t evolved one bit since 1997; in particular a singularly inflexible and witless Prime Minister makes the Labour party look extremely set in its ways and incapable of understanding the public will. We can capitalise on this.
- “Their talk of public sector reform – which has never been more vital – is simply code for cuts.” This is Brown’s discredited the-Tories-are-cutters line. And Labour won’t cut? Voters aren’t stupid.
Indeed they aren’t. And people know that Labour knows it must cut, too. Challenging them to promise real-terms stability in public spending would hole this argument completely, either way.
- “How progressive is a policy on inheritance tax that would favour the very wealthy with a substantial tax cut?” The Tories are still the friends of the rich and powerful attack. I think this hurts a little but Labour need to be careful about the Tories-are-Toffs tactic. They overplayed that card in Crewe and Nantwich.
- “The Tories’ instinctive belief that the ultimate arbiter of most human interactions should be the market hardly fits with a century of progressive thought, much of which has focused on humanising the market and globalisation, rather than just letting it rip.” The Tories are the party of uncontrolled market capitalism? George Osborne believes that his strong emphasis on reform of financial regulation will inoculate the Conservatives on this one.
Osborne needs to make his case for financial regulation in a forum where people can see it. It could be that Osborne’s speech at conference could be even more vital than the Leader’s address.
- “From the benches of the European parliament, where the Tories sit alongside a motley collection of far rightists, nationalists and homophobes, their claim to carry the torch of progressive politics looks like a bad joke… Most of the Tory party identify themselves as being to the right of their new leaders.” Behind the smiley Cameron is the Loony Right. My own view is this is Labour’s strongest line (although unfair) but it won’t be enough to save Labour from a big defeat.
I am not sure the currently horribly fracturing Labour Party will be able to pull this one off, so long as Cameron is careful not to alienate the party, and providing a show of utter unity and perfect harmony can be shown at Party conference. I know enough MPs to realise they may be concerned with the new slick centre to the party, they are ready to be led – to victory.