The Tories are all tactics and no strategy

26th March, 2015 8:43 am

The Tories are a lot better than Labour at the moment at “winning” news cycles. Their operation is slicker and they are master tacticians. They receive paeans of praise from the political press for doing so. These short term tactics are extremely attractive to us political writers who have to find something new to write about every week, and whose obsession with Westminster is at such a level that we follow it closely enough to think about these day to day tactics.

So as a class, journalists celebrate these short term wins and analyse the losses, but are less good at seeing the longer term, the bigger picture. Celebrating the Tories tactics has led to them becoming over reliant on them – over and above a sense of long term strategy.

Cameron shooting Ed Miliband’s fox on VAT during yesterday’s PMQs is a classic example of this. It was an odd venue to make such an announcement. It contradicted the line George Osborne had given Parliament just one day before. But it ensured a “win” for Cameron at the last PMQs of this Parliament – a short term boost that will be much celebrated by the Tory leadership even when it means little or nothing to the country as a whole.

PMQs

Last night it emerged that the Tories last act of this Parliament will be to try and get rid of the Speaker John Bercow. As Angela Eagle has said, it’s a grubby plot. It’s not worthy of the democracy of the Commons – never mind the last act of a Government. But equally, once again it is tactically clever and strategically stupid. The Tories are trading short term advantage for long term damage to their brand.

They may hate Bercow. They may want rid of him (though to their credit not all Tories are behind the move) and they may believe that getting rid of him would make their lives easier.

But why do they think this? Because – as with Cameron’s weird admission about “only” wanting to serve two terms as Prime Minister – their Tory arrogance is showing through once again. They are assuming they are going to be in power. Never mind that not a vote has been cast. the Tories are preparing themselves a smoother ride in their belief that they will coast back in to government.

Anyone looking at the polls right now and convinced they know the outcome of the next election is probably the kind if megalomaniac either best avoided or given a newspaper (or LabourList!) column. The polls are incredibly tight. The lead is interchangeable and the margin of error make it all but a statistical tie. the election will be close fought and hard won. If it is “won” at all it will not be decisive. Tactics will matter on a day to day basis, and ours will need to be better honed. But ultimately strategy will matter more. The hard yards will need to be put in – should have been put in – over a long period of time to set the tone both of the debate but also of your coverage.

The one thing the Tories can’t allow themselves to be seen as is arrogant. Aloof. Separate. Not “on your side”. Yet time and time again, they act in ways that bring them short term advantage (the money raised at a lavish fundraising ball, the commandeering of the campaign to reinstate an (unfortunately) popular TV presenter but over the long term do nothing but tarnish their brand.

Cameron and Osborne have given up on Tory modernisation. They can offer us nothing but the same nasty old brand, wrapped up in a story of austerity for the many and success for the few – their few. Those of us who comment on the day to day and week to week movement and activities in Westminster, would do well to remember to question not just their short term motives but the longer term wisdom of their strategy. Winning a news cycle may feel good, but it will be for nothing if they lose the election. Their clever clever tactics may – just  may – contribute to that in the end.

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  • Malcolm McCandless

    No wonder the ConLab hegemony is under threat with continued Tory arrogance and Labour ineptitude.

    Some choice for despairing voters David Cameron or Ed Miliband.

  • CrunchieTime

    Whenever I feel afraid, I hold my head erect
    And whistle a happy tune so no one will suspect I’m afraid
    While shivering in my shoes, I strike a careless pose
    And whistle a happy tune and no one ever knows I’m afraid
    The result of this deception is very strange to tell,
    For when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well
    I whistle a happy tune, and every single time,
    The happiness in the tune convinces me that I’m not afraid
    Make believe you’re brave, and the trick will take you far,
    You may as brave as you make believe you are

    (Emma whistles)

    You may as brave as you make believe you are
    The result of this deception is very strange to tell,
    For when I fool the people I fear, I fool myself as well
    I whistle a happy tune, and every single time,
    The happiness in the tune convinces me that I’m not afraid
    Make believe you’re brave, and the trick will take you far,
    You may as brave as you make believe you are
    (whistle)
    You may as brave as you make believe you are

    • reformist lickspittle

      Stick to the day job, mate.

      On second thoughts, given your usual output, don’t 😉

      This piece is a devastatingly accurate and incisive analysis of where we are – no wonder you have absolutely no answer to it.

      • bikerboy

        Sounds like the usual meandering nonsense to me.

      • CrunchieTime

        “Stick to the day job, mate”

        Tell that to Rodgers and Hammerstein, they wrote it. I think they were quite successful…

        And they were quite correct. That’s all this article is. Whistling a happy tune.

        • reformist lickspittle

          I stand corrected, apologies.

          Musicals were never really my thing, however 😉

          The rest of my comment remains.

    • Tommo

      Saw Yul Brynner in the King And I at the Palladium in 1979

      Etc, etc, etc.

  • bikerboy

    If ban-the-Bercow had at least a shred of humility he might be more liked. He treats the place like it’s his fiefdom and bawls out his underlings. If he goes it’s his own fault.

    • Harry Barnes

      What he attempts to achieve is normally worthwhile, but his methods are terrible.

      • bikerboy

        Yes I think that is a fair statement.

        • treborc1

          But the fact is he has to rule over a bunch of school kids, or students, so not a job that is easy to do he also knows the Tories dislike him and his wife. The fact is the Tories and labour act like children so he’s treating them the same way is about all he can do.

          • Harry Barnes

            Yet he is highly intelligent and able and has the correct instincts on how parliament should operate; but he lacks the skills to gradually make improvements in MPs’ practices – he has probably been counter-productive. The front benches should, of course, face up to their own responsibilities. Ed Miliband should have abandoned the attempt to score political points at PMs Questions. It just helped Cameron to do his typcial rubbish. Miliband could have opted for asking specific and limited querstions that required factual answers. If they were not answered they could then have been repeated. The follow ups could have come via immediate press releases, which made the political points. Then the media should show us some of parliament at its best. Often that is when the chamber is almost empty and the few present have an interest and some expertise in the issue under discussion – including debates on Select Committee Reports. The trouble is that the party managers would then be tempted to take these areas over so that yah-boo politics would take over. But if the public showed that it wanted serious politics, then it would be in the interests of the media and parliament to reflect this more fully.

    • ColinAdkins

      He makes me glad that I got banned from Essex University SU bar for an altercation I had with him during the Executive elections. I was president of the Union at the time!

  • Harry Barnes

    Two different letters have been received in two days at our house from “Labour Party Membership” seeking to get party members to both raise money via raffle tickets and then to send in £25 donations. Yet not a single Labour Party policy proposal for the General Elections is mentioned. Why is opportunity after opportunity lost to add policy proposals which members can go forth and press for. If members like what they see, then they are more likely to respond financially. But if all they get are begging letters, then members are likely to be completely turned off.

    • treborc1

      Did you get the one about the tea towels brilliant then they sent one saying only a few left. When I wrote about dentist I was told this is devolved to Wales so contact them, looks good for labour mansion tax share out then.

      • Harry Barnes

        By Regional and national email and post members have been sent, a stream of material which is limited to selling tea towells, receiving raffle tickets (twice), regular requests to send £25, renewed membership cards, invites to expensive meals with the high and mighty and the “One Nation Magazine”. Only in the latter has there been any mention of Labour’s Policies with eleven points listed on pages 12 and 13, hidden amongst mainly non-political messages from the high and mighty, details of where your money goes, an exclusive interview with a celebrity I have never heard of, another interview with someone or other from the Lords, coloured photos and snipets from the up and coming, plus similar non-political nonsense. Yet all this stuff could have been used to centre on Labour’s programme in an attempt to enthuse the rank and file. For it should be assumed that what is left of the Labour Party membership might just happen to have an interest in politics proper (i.e. the distribution of power and infuence and how we should respond to this). I actually feel that our policies are in general terms hopeful; but does this organisational nonsense indicate that those in charge actually believe in them?

  • Sunny Jim

    I like Bercow because he makes the Tories apoplectic but the truth is that he has been a terrible speaker and if it wasn’t for the outcome of the next GE being so tight i’d like to see him replaced with a Labour MP.

    As for the ‘tactics’ of the tories we should be raising our game to match them because right now we ARE in the tactical phase of a GE campaign.

    There’s no point whining about being slapped about by them – we should be punching back.

    • Andrew

      Hello, he is a Labour MP. Tory in name but voted in and backed tonight by Labour only

  • AdH2011

    It makes Labour’s poor alternative so much more frustrating as it really isn’t an alternative – sure there’s some fluff around the edges but the core principles are very similar. The opportunity was there for a more radical approach and it’s been missed through poor leadership and lack of vision.

  • Andrew

    You sad, sad person

  • Marco

    It’s no comfort to us dispirited lefties to be sold a fantasy. Tories are all tactics and no strategy? That’s rubbish. It’s us, it’s Labour, that is without strategy and substitutes tactics instead. And what chance do we have of rectifying that if LL thinks its sensible to peddle nonsense and comforting untruths? We have to face our failure as a party to achieve a dynamic leadership and any sort of election winning strategy.

  • Graeme Hancocks

    Well written . Absolutely right.

  • disqus_EJmqmmuw9G

    I think you’re very wrong about there being no Tory strategy; which is not to be disparaging about the thought provoking suggestion you put forward. Like our Constitution, it’s very old, unwritten, and ultimately for the purpose of protection – though to be clear, it has nothing to do with ‘The Nation’ (as in all of us). Given a globalised economy, what they protect is their hold on the nation’s purse strings, or more precisely, the nation’s revenue streams; be they in or out of Government. Register this modern purpose and the strategy falls in to focus well enough for most to recognise.

  • Nonsense, the Tories – at least a large part of them do have a strategy: to reduce the state, sell off or outsource what remains of the public sector and solve capitalism’s problems at the expense of the people by reducing social provision and keeping real wages in check. To this end their major tactic has to been to blame Labour for the economic crash and the favourite Crosby word on every Tory’s lips now is the ‘chaos’ caused by Labour. Of course they do not rush to make clear what they are really about but this has become much more obvious with Osborne’s proposed further onslaught on welfare provision. Alas Labour has responded woefully to the Tory lie, has failed to explain clearly to the public at large what is happening and after some promising words four years ago lacks a strategy for gathering all the anti-Tory forces together into a progressive movement. The Labour leadership still allows its tactics to be overly determined by immediate pressures inside the Westminster bubble, party political manoeuvring, and what the press might say.

  • bikerboy

    It rather looks as though the Speaker has further sullied the reputation of the House, if that is possible.

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