Labour isn’t too complacent – and David Cameron isn’t Keyser Söze


The air raid sirens can be heard once more. Time to put your tin hat on. Over the last few years the Tories, it seems, have managed to win every political debate, turn every disaster to their advantage, turn night into day and presumably water into Bollinger. We need to keep this at the forefront of our minds because the Tories have shown they can ‘bury their opposition’. Wow. Maybe we should all just give up and go home.

It’s the sort of warning that’s now a genre – complacency fiction. The story usually goes that Labour is growing too complacent. That large sections of the movement are snuggled up in onesies, drinking coco, being lulled to sleep by the soothing tones of Ed Miliband singing rockaby One Nation baby (available on ‘Now That’s What I Call Predistribution 2012’). While Labour is snoring, possibly drooling, the Tories are busy working in the shadows. Painting Labour into corners and putting it into boxes it can’t get out of. They are evil geniuses waiting to strike when the moment is right. And when they strike they will strike hard. We won’t know what hit us and neither will a country that will have to put up with a Tory government until 2020.

It’s a good story – it has a beginning, a middle and a shock ending. It’s got a villain and a moral. People like stories and this one has an edge to it. But for it to work we have to buy that the Tories are virtuoso political puppet masters. This is a bit farfetched given the barely competent manner in which they’ve taken to government. Maybe it’s part of a cunning plan? Maybe they’re acting like they don’t really know what they’re doing on purpose, to trick us. Maybe Cameron is Keyser Söze? Maybe we are misunderestimating them?

I suspect, however, that when it comes to the Tories it’s a case of what you see is what you get. They have a few good people but they’re not blessed with an abundance of talent or vision at the highest level. They’re making a mess of many aspects of government but they’ve got themselves on the right side of some key issues. The Tories aren’t the masters of getting out of political scrapes. They try really really hard to avoid them but fail miserably.

It isn’t complacency to point this out. You can do so and admit that Labour’s lead in the polls has the robustness of a poached egg. Labour has lots and lots of hard work to do, and is in a better position compared to where it was last year. The Conservatives are dangerous and are well prepared for the next election, but we can’t give them too much credit – they don’t deserve much. They didn’t win a majority and they’ve been dealing with government in a way that sometimes makes Mr. Bean seem like a trouble-shooter extraordinaire. We need to have a realistic understanding of what they are doing. They have strengths and weaknesses, as do Labour, and exaggerating them or playing them down to make a point isn’t going to help Labour develop a path to victory. We need hardnosed strategy, not fairytales.

John Clarke blogs at

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