Monday, 25 May 2015

The 'Sweetest' Victory

This week sees the first Queens speech of the all singing, all dancing new Conservative government that features a hell of a lot of the old faces from the coalition government.  Arguably the only things to have changed have been the doormats.  Given the surprising result, it’s strange that there’s really not been an awful lot of analysis in terms of looking at how they won.  Even stranger given the wretchedness of their campaign.

Breakfast time, 8th May & the Cameron's
return to Downing Street
Ah, the campaign, so full of tactical gems and traps that Labour fell into.  All of it revisionist claptrap of course.  The truth is that there are several reasons why the Tories won, none of which relate to either the policies they planned to pursue or Cameron’s ability to defend his record in public. We will see how quickly Cameron’s policy to legislate against putting up Income & Corporation tax as well as National Insurance takes to fall apart.  Similarly Labour’s failure to lay a glove on Cameron was shown up by Cameron’s mauling by a Radio 1 audience.

That’s not to underplay the Tories return to being dark hearted Machiavellian’s, as outlined by James McKenzie here.  It’s just that I’m not entirely convinced this was Cameron’s strategy but think this is someone else within CCHQ, somebody with the mind of a chess grandmaster.  Not Cameron then, and probably not Crosby given he was only hired a couple of years ago.  Indeed, if it wasn’t for the fact that “Osborne; political strategist” is something of an oxymoron after the Omnishambles budget and the ‘Sermon on the Pound’, you’d be tempted to think of him being Cameron’s chief tactician.  Especially as Osborne clearly fancies himself as one.

MacKenzies post does highlight the biggest factor in the Conservative’s return – the ineptitude of the other parties.  Hindsight quite clearly will be of no use to a party that was, as my introduction alluded, perceived to be nothing more that the Tories doormats.  Though the Lib Dems did themselves no favours whatsoever for being so enthusiastic evangelists for the Tories Scorched Earth programme.  Most decent Lib Dem supporters probably rue the day they first became aware of David Law’s wretched Orange Book. 

The only card the Conservatives had was that Labour, if they were to creep past the Tories into power, had to deal with the SNP.  Whether they themselves would deal with the SNP (or more likely the sectarian and deeply homophobic DUP) was not the issue – because Labour never made it an issue (much to Owen Jones annoyance).  The issue the Tories campaigned on was that a weak Labour party would strike a deal with the unreconstructed deficit deniers of the SNP and would not be in a position to say no.  That the SNP have been a remarkably centrist party in Scottish politics (vacating the position left behind by 'Scottish' Labour & the Lib Dems) is neither hear or there.  To an English audience, the SNP are a menace that needs to be repelled at all costs.  Vote Conservative.

The Tories tactic of course wouldn’t work half as well if the SNP & Labour were remotely happy bedfellows.  Their tactic works because of the relationship between the two.  That the SNP showed the most mature viewpoint only served to push Labour away, who in their blue funk gave in not only to Cameron but also to the more swivel eyed of their Scottish Labour contingent.  Those for whom the SNP are only to be loathed regardless of the consequences.

In a funny sort of way, the SNP showed some political naivety of their own.  Sturgeon, Robertson & co carried on their campaign, which while sweeping all before them here kind of played into the stereotypes the Tories were painting the SNP as.  There was a piece in the Independent about a week before polling which vox-poped voters in Norwich and Carlisle.  Both places had voters express a dislike for being run by ‘that woman’.  Then again, that’s maybe a by-product of Labour’s obsession with a possible second referendum – so once again they shot themselves in the foot.

Of course, the big reason the Tories won was the time honoured battleground for every election and referendum – the economy.  Say what you like about austerity, and believe me I wish you would, but it is now conventional wisdom among the British electorate that serious cuts are required to solve the issues with the economy.  Milliband spent too long getting his feet under the desk to prevent this narrative from taking root.   Hence Labour hitting a brick wall whenever the economy came up.  The mileage the SNP got for being the anti-austerity party surely must have given Labour pause for thought over their tactic of accepting Scorched Earth.

I’d thought that Cameron would win a second term as far back as 2012, when the Independence referendum started to become reality and Milliband’s poor response cemented his fate.  I had thought that maybe Milliband had got back into the game after the bright start to his campaign and Cameron’s flat campaign.  Then again, if we are looking for turning points, maybe the ‘Ed Stone’ was this campaign’s “Sheffield rally” moment.  From then, the polls showed slight Tory leads which maybe grew on Election Day. 

For the most unconventional of election campaigns, it was the traditional battleground of ‘the Economy’ that proved to be the key to victory.  A lesson that should be learned not just for Labour but for a Scottish National Party still really to work out why the referendum was lost last September.  

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