Cameron has fired some of his best bullets – but he has a few left…
If the intention was to fundamentally “change the game” and put the Tories back into contention in the polls, then Cameron’s Euro-gamble has failed. Today’s YouGov polling shows Labour with the same lead (12 points) and a higher vote share than 10 days ago before “the speech”.
The days that followed the speech have been amongst the worst of Cameron’s premiership so far.
Friday was the 5th time Osborne has pulled the dead rabbit of economy shrinkage out of his magician’s hat. Sunday saw the unveiling of Cameron’s least favourite kind of horse (the stalking variety), and today the Guardian reports that Cameron will face a leadership challenge in 2014 if it looks like he won’t win the next election. Considering the chances of him winning a majority in 2015 are now remote following the bungled boundary changes vote, it’s quite possible that today’s murmurings will become tomorrow’s open assault on the Tory leader. His predecessors Thatcher, Major and Duncan-Smith will tell him how that story plays out.
To escape the hole that is being dug for him – and to make headway in the polls – Cameron will need to find some effective lines to attack Labour with, the kind of nice chunky dividing lines of which Gordon Brown was once so proud. He’s already tried Europe and Welfare without making much headway in the polls – what else does he have at his disposal?
Immigration – when Cameron succumbed to the clamour of the Tory Right and hired Lynton Crosby to run the 2015 election campaign, we all knew what to expect. The man behind some fairly odious dog-whistle campaigns in Australia will be bringing his particular brand of Us vs Them politics to Downing Street. Are you thinking what they’re thinking? You weren’t in 2005 when Crosby was last employed by the Tories, but they’re hoping you will be in 2015. Ironically, the bleak economic situation that Osborne has presided over may provide the ideal backdrop for a Crosby immigration campaign…
Unions – the Tories have had a few half-hearted attempts at attacking the Trade Unions, largely stoked by the Taxpayer’s Alliance and the Trade Union Reform Campaign (which has been very quiet of late, perhaps because it’s chaired by..erm..Aidan Burley). Expect to see attacks on union funding for Labour, union rights and the right to strike (including a threshold for ballots to strike) as the Tories seek to drive a wedge between the public and the union movement, and as a result, the Labour Party. Voices in the Tory Party like Robert Halfron who argue that the government should reach out to the unions may prevail, but I wouldn’t put any money on it…
Welfare (again) – the Tories have tried to use welfare to their own tactical advantage already (see “The Make Labour Look Like the Party for Skiving Fat Slobs bill”). It’s beyond disgusting to see a government use the lives of some of the poorest and most in need in society for political gain – but that’s exactly what Osborne has done (with negligible political benefit to him or his party thus far). Today, self-serving ministers are arguing for more welfare cuts to try and save their own budgets. After cutting housing benefit, slashing in work benefits, maternity pay, child allowance and hitting the disabled hard, you may well ask what more there is to cut. Osborne is determined to find billion more (although not pensions, obviously) and he wants to keep Labour on what he sees as “the wrong side of the argument”. The polling says otherwise, but Labour will need to be brave to stand consistently against the media orthodoxy that says welfare cuts are ‘a good thing’.
Economy (again) – it has had mixed fortunes so far, but expect to hear the return of lines like “They crashed the car now they want the keys back” used by the Tories against Labour. Of course Labour could reply that the Labour took the car back out of the ditch, only for the Tories to drive in the hard shoulder, and plunge the car repeatedly back into the ditch again. What should concern Labour though is that the Tories are still more trusted on the economy, despite bungling the recovery to the extent that we’re being left behind by much of Europe and the US. As long as the Tories are polling ahead of Labour on the economy, they’ll use it as a stick to beat Labour with, because as much as we think the lack of growth is Osborne’s fault, the public don’t agree.
Ed Miliband – the Tories have been quite open about their plans to make the General Election personal by focussing on Ed Miliband. So far we’ve had talk of 2015 as a referendum on Ed Miliband (good luck, it’ll be a referendum on the economy) and today as a Presidential race between Cameron and Miliband. There’s a tacit admission in all of this that the Tories don’t believe they can win a straight Labour vs Tories fight – but Labour should remember that trying to build up the Labour leader’s profile and defend him against Tory attacks won’t be enough, the party must also be willing to go negative on David Cameron too.