Sunday, 28 February 2010

Cameron Connects

A good, bravura performance from David Cameron today, if not quite barnstorming. It needed to be good  and it was. He is very good at this kind of no notes, informal, chatty style. It presents a great contrast to the dour and formal style of Brown who simply cannot compete with Cameron or of course his Labour predecessor when it comes to connecting with audiences. That Cameron can pull this off and remember the detail and the arguments is impressive. This will have worked. It will look great on the TV bulletins which was the intention.

And this, I would have thought, bodes well for Cameron at those TV debates. We're always told that Brown is good on detail and so he is. But he is not good at thinking on his feet and connecting with an audience. A good memory is of no use without the emotional intelligence to channel the facts in a way audiences can respond to. This is Cameron's great strength. It's fascinating isn't it. Some were saying that these were a risk for Cameron given that he was so far ahead in the polls. Now it might be the break he needs, notwithstanding my earlier reservations about the reliability of the polls. Brown's team by contrast may worry that the debates could arrest his progress or damage it irreparably.

The speech today, or was it more a fireside chat without the fireside? was a box ticking exercise in many ways. Cameron needed to present himself as more likeable and down to earth, more modern and optimistic, less cynical. The presentation alone will have ticked all of those boxes. This is why this approach works so well. It looks so much better on TV and just gives off the right vibe, almost regardless of the words.

But the words were good too. We may all have our preferences about what we would have liked him to say and perhaps what we think he should have said more about, but in fairness this wasn't that kind of speech. Cameron's critics have argued that there is no overarching theme to the Tory message and this was an attempt to address that. Has it succeeded? In part. It has certainly helped. The Tories are keen to talk about their radicalism, their new approach to the problems created by Labour or which remain unsolved by Labour. The policies are there. Iain Dale gave a precis of them earlier.

  • Introduction of border police and a cap on immigration
  • A two year freeze on council tax
  • Abolish ID cards and roll back the big brother state
  • Reduce the number of MPs by 10% and cut the cost of politics
  • Allow parents to create their own schools
  • Restore the link between pensions and earnings
  • Repatriate powers from Europe
  • Stop Labour's NI rise which is a tax on jobs
  • Cut business taxes to encourage new small business start-ups
  • Gove householders more rights to defend themselves against burglars
  • Abolition of Inheritance tax for everyone except millionaires

This is a good start to what needs to be a determined fightback. There is no need to attack Brown over his bullying, lying and unsuitability for the job, people already know about that and the press is doing that anyway. It's why he's so unpopular. What they do need to be reminded of is the fact that Brown has no new ideas. His approach is going to be more of the same, the same policies which are failing in so many areas from the economy, unemployment, immigration, education, health, law and order and defence. The Tories have good policies, their approach is right. They just need to get out there and make the arguments and stop Brown getting away with his lies and deceit. Tax cuts are not for the rich, they are for all of us to bring the growth we need to pay back the Brown debt legacy we are all now saddled with.

I should add however that I still think the Tories should announce, perhaps as part of a manifesto launch once the campaign is under way, that they intend to take the low paid out of tax altogether, not with tax credits and so on but by simply changing tax allowances. That would put money in people's pockets quickly and would show that tax cuts are for everyone and can address problems like poverty and welfare dependency at the same time.

Today's polls and the recent drift need not be a disaster for the Tories. They were in a similar position in 2007. This is a wake up call and a call to arms. The election will be called imminently. Brown thinks he has them on the run. But they have the best policies, the best ideas and the only viable approach to sorting out the mess we are in. Brown won't even admit there is a problem let alone that his mistakes have caused those problems. This should make him unelectable. As David Cameron said today, it is his patriotic duty to despatch Gordon Brown to the pages of history. The fight to do just that starts now.

Cameron: The Rise of the New ConservativeThe Best of Gilbert & SullivanThe Conservatives under David Cameron: Built to Last?

Tight Polls Mean High Turnout

I feel I should point out that, notwithstanding my excitement that this makes the election announcement imminent, I strongly suspect that today's polls are wrong and are overestimating Labour support. Indeed I think the polls in general, with one or two exceptions, are in danger of having a 1992 style debacle. This is partly because polls tend to overestimate Labour support and underestimate Conservative support and also because things are clearly tight. But I do not believe that it is as tight as is being suggested. Oddly the tighter it gets the less trustworthy the polls become by suggesting it is even tighter - if you see what I mean.

Having said all of that, this could be good for democracy. It should ensure a big turnout at the election. If people are uncertain of the outcome they will come out and vote. If they are determined about trying to ensure a certain outcome they will do the same. We saw this in the London mayoral election of a couple of years ago. The polls were tight then too and Conservative voters came out in droves to ensure a Boris victory. Could we be about to see the same thing at a general election? I suspect so. This Labour resurgence will be concentrating minds, but not just amongst politicians.

Game On!

The latest poll from YouGov for the Sunday Times has the Tory lead down to just 2 points. That, thanks to the peculiarities of our electoral system and its inbuilt Labour bias, would actually deliver a Labour victory, although probably not a majority.

So, the lead is nearly gone, frittered away after months of playing safe, performing U turns, allowing Brown to get away with his lies and setting the agenda. The British public, which poll after poll reveals loathes Gordon Brown, nevertheless can find no convincing reason to vote for David Cameron. 

Today Cameron has to come out fighting just as he did the last time he was facing defeat, in the autumn of 2007. He has the perfect set piece occasion to do so. He needs to make a convincing argument to rid the country of this appalling prime minister but also an argument that things will be better under him. So far he has failed to do so, or at least not recently. 

We are almost certainly only 4 or 5 weeks now from a general election. If Brown could get away with it he would dissolve parliament tomorrow and call it for the end of March meaning a short campaign and less time for the Tories to spend all of their cash. Indeed the Telegraph has leaked e-mails from Number 10 staff talking about a short campaign. I doubt however that even Brown can be that brazen and it would be logistically impossible anyway. As it is we will more likely have that election in early April, probably just after Easter or in mid April. Expect the announcement soon. A dissolution has to be asked for and granted, a mere formality, and then things have to be wound down in parliament including sorting out any remaining legislation. The decision must be made more or less immediately if that time scale is to work rather than waiting untl May as has been assumed. 

The Tories have talked the talk about ensuring against complacency and yet complacent they have been. Their cautious approach to this election and recent gaffes and lacklustre performance have allowed Brown back into the game. It can all change around during the campaign and those headline figures do not of course tell the whole story. But Brown and his team have pulled off something remarkable. They used to say that oppositions don't win elections, governments lose them. Brown may be about to show just how true that is, although Cameron and his team have missed so many open goals it's been more akin to watching England in a penalty shoot out against the annoyingly efficient Germans. 

Cameron: The Rise of the New ConservativeGordon Brown, Prime Minister

Breaking the Brown Omerta Pact

Well who would have thought? It seems that, in the wake of, and indeed even before the damaging allegations contained in the first extract of Andrew Rawnsley's book, Labour concocted a spin campaign in which they knowingly lied about Gordon Brown's behaviour. Indeed yesterday Brown even made a joke about it all.

Unfortunately for him the Mail on Sunday now has the evidence Peter Mandelson said was needed to prove the allegations in the form of a tape recording of the aide he shoved rudely and roughly aside. Dr Stewart Wood spoke to a journalist and confirmed that it did indeed happen and that Brown does routinely behave in this way and Number 10 staff just have to put up with it, although they probably shouldn't.

Dr Wood has already attempted to retract his statement, no doubt under pressure from Number 10. But he gave his original interview at their request because they thought he was contributing to a friendly biography. It's all on the tape which you can hear on the MoS site. Which do we believe, and what do we think is happening now? Bullying? Them? Never.

Now we can debate forever whether this is bullying behaviour or append some other kind of label to it. But the fact of the matter is that the British prime minister is a petulant, moody, childish and obnoxious man who doesn't know how to treat people and who routinely and blatantly lies about this and much else besides. They can spin this as much as they like and try to pin the blame elsewhere, but the court of public opinion in which they once placed so much faith may well come to a different conclusion.

Take a second look at us Brown asked last weekend. Presumably if we don't he will shout at us, swear at us and harangue us until we relent. That's what he does to his closest advisers and those who have the temerity to say no to him after all.

What is most damaging and indeed spin proof about these revelations is that they come from a journalist who is writing an authorised biography of Brown, has been given privileged access to his inner circle and thus knows all of his deep dark secrets. She has not liked what she has seen. Thus his denials this week have convinced her to put what she knows in the public sphere.

The journalist, Suzie Mackenzie, cannot be slurred as a Tory stooge. The spinners will find it much harder to deny what she is now putting on the record. Their lies have caught them out. She is of course breaking a journalistic convention, a convention which protects lying and deceitful politicians however rather than bullied employees as were betrayed last weekend. Ms Mackenzie was trusted. She was trusted to go in and see the man. Then, having started out admiring him before seeing what he was really like, she saw him last week deny what she knew to be true. She saw him pose as open and accountable whilst lying egregiously about himself. She decided to act. She should be applauded for doing so. This is someone who was allowed in to the inner circle and is now daring to break with this peculiar Omerta pact which surrounds the great godfather himself. Will she suffer as he sends in the forces of hell? Will she wake up with a horse's head on her pillow? Or will the godfather finally get his richly deserved comeuppance?

Best for Britain?: The Politics and Legacy of Gordon BrownGordon Brown: Past, Present and FutureGordon Brown, Prime MinisterServants of the People

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Make Your Mind Up Time

We've been saying all week that the Rawnsley revelations and bullying furore seems to have had little or no impact on Gordon Brown's poll ratings. Yet the only real barometer of this has been the YouGov daily poll, an untested measure and one whose reliability is unknown. Sunday should reveal the first normal polls in the Sunday papers. Will these tell a different story?

There will be more revelations from the Rawnsley book Sunday too. Will there be more bombshells before the book itself comes out this week?

The rumours about an imminent election announcement continue to circulate. If the poll numbers are good for Labour expect the rumours to get louder. The Tories for their part should come out first and demand that Brown call an election and put an end to the damaging uncertainty. Eric Pickles has been doing that already but it would sound even better coming from someone like Cameron or Hague.

So will Brown go for it? Certainly his advisers are urging him to do so and there are many advantages to a short sharp campaign called now or in the next day or so. Downing Street will be poring over the polls, watching the Conservative conference and then having a conference of their own rather similar to the one Andrew Rawnsley revealed last week when they decided not to go ahead in October 2007.

I expect him to call an election either for the end of March or the beginning of April. It's the logical option. But this is Gordon Brown we're talking about. As Rawnsley revealed he will have been going over the polls, analysing council by election results, e-mailing, calling and generally obsessing over this. It's entirely possible he'll dither and decide against before denying he ever considered it. This however is his last real opportunity to have an election at a time of his own choosing. Dither now and he is boxed in to a May election. Surely even Brown can't hang on until June can he?

Best for Britain?: The Politics and Legacy of Gordon BrownGordon Brown: Past, Present and FutureServants of the People

Hague Lays Into Brown

An excellent speech from William Hague really sticking it to Gordon Brown and telling it like it is. You can read the full speech on the Conservative website here. He's sticking to the theme of change the country needs but attacking Brown with gusto at the same time.

In particular this phrase is simple, easy to understand and explains our predicament beautifully:

We cannot go on just borrowing money from China so that we can buy their goods and then borrow some more. Gordon Brown is like a credit card company who will always send you another letter saying it would be so easy when in debt to borrow even more. Every family, every small business, everyone except this Government knows it is the road to ruin.

After that initial part of the speech, a part he rounded off by telling the forces of hell to get the hell out of Downing Street, Hague moved on to the positive changes that the Tories will bring. It was good, stirring and optimistic stuff.

This is more like it. This needs to be the way the Tories campaign once we get underway. It may well be a very short campaign if I am right about timing. This kind of message will need to become the norm. The Tories have had a bad couple of months and given Gordon hope. Maybe they have even smoked him out and made him call that election early. Now at last they are coming out fighting. If Cameron can match this tomorrow then   it should expunge some of the gloom and revivify the party and maybe even the country.

William Wilberforce: The Life of the Great Anti-Slave Trade CampaignerWilliam Pitt the Younger: A Biography

Vote for Change

The Conservative election slogan is going to be Vote For Change. Fair enough. It's clear, it's simple, it identifies what many people want. The subtext of course is vote for us to get rid of Brown. They should make sure that this becomes more than a mere subtext however. Yes, they need to make positive arguments, spell out a better future and explain how Tory policies will achieve this. But ultimately they also need to show that five more years under Gordon Brown will spell disaster for this country.

 Labour are operating under a slogan promising fairness. Yet their record shows that, for all of their good intentions, they have delivered the opposite. No government can deliver fairness for all, what they can deliver is greater equality of opportunity. Labour, through it's misguided policies and dogmatic insistence on various agendas meant to deliver fairness, has actually ended up doing the opposite. Education is worse. The gap between rich and poor is widening. Poverty is worsening. Social mobility is worse. These are all things the Tories should be pointing out and repeating constantly. It is how Labour campaign and the Conservative Party needs to do the same. The only difference will be that the Tories won't need to tell lies to expose Labour's hopeless failure. This is a party that has not only lost control of the public finances, it can't even afford election posters.

I've had an e-mail from David Cameron today. He tells us that the Conservative Party is modern and radical. Indeed he seems very keen to push this message. He repeats it four times. I accept that the party has modernised. It's radicalism remains to be seen but there are encouraging signs. At least the e-mail shows that they are learning the lesson about repetition though. More of the same. And more . And more. And more. And more........

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The Cameron Fightback

The Daily Mail reports that David Cameron tomorrow, speaking without notes at which he is so good, will set out key Tory pledges as follows:

Act now on debt to get the economy moving:
Deal with the deficit more quickly than Labour so that mortgage rates stay lower for longer with the Conservatives.

Get Britain working by boosting enterprise:
Cut corporation tax rates, abolish taxes on the first ten jobs created by new businesses, promote green jobs and get people off welfare and into work.

Make Britain the most family-friendly country in Europe:
Freeze council tax and raise the basic state pension, recognise marriage in the tax system and back couples in the benefits system, support young families with extra health visitors, and fight back against crime.

Back the NHS:
Increase spending on health every year; and make the NHS work for patients not managers.

Raise standards in schools:
Give teachers the power to restore discipline and create new smaller schools.

Change politics:
Reduce the number of MPs, cut Whitehall and quangos by a third, and let taxpayers see where their money is spent.

I'm not saying my own prescription for government was better, indeed some of the pledges Cameron will make are impressive and in some cases rather similar. But they do rather look like a prescription for what he thinks people want to hear rather than what he really believes and are shying away from areas that are controversial but need to be talked about. Indeed the public is crying out for politicians to address certain cores issues. Why not talk about immigration? Why not talk about Europe?

Immigration in particular is an act of betrayal by this government. Their behaviour has been scandalous and created huge resentment. Indeed they have damaged their own constituency, the poor working class. The Tories should be pointing this out. On Europe, well what is there left to say? The Tories line on the euro is being vindicated as we speak. Europe and that damned treaty has been another arch betrayal by Gordon Brown, a stark example of his duplicity. Why not talk about it? Why not start talking about a future which puts Britain where we want to be rather than where the cynical European elite want us to be? Europe's approach to democracy is an opportunity when Cameron is also talking about reforming our political system.

And why buy into this Brownite fantasy in which ever more money is the solution to the ills of our public services? Hasn't that theory been tested to destruction? Surely this is an opportunity for more creative thinking? That should be a central theme for the Tories. Don't ring fence spending, ring fence services. Lines about patients not managers are good. This is fertile territory. Labour has massively increased NHS bureaucracy and it is this approach that Conservatives will cut, not the frontline. Gordon Brown's approach would mean either the very frontline cuts he promises to avoid (something which is actually happening right now as this story in The Times reveals) or national bankruptcy. There is another way.

I do think these themes as set out will appeal to the public and will represent a real fightback when compared to the anodyne and meaningless themes set out by Brown last week. But they could and should be much much more. Given that Mr Cameron is giving his speech without notes perhaps he could speak from his heart and extemporise a little on some of the above themes. It would do him and his party a great deal of good if he showed a passion for subjects the public too feel passionately about.

Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, Global Wireless, Latest Generation)Tea Party Revival: The Conscience of a Conservative Reborn: The Tea Party Revolt Against Unconstrained Spending and Growth of the Federal GovernmentTea Party Revival: The Conscience of a Conservative Reborn: The Tea Party Revolt Against Unconstrained Spending and Growth of the Federal Government

Crime Pays - Handsomely

Crime always finds a way you know because crime, contrary to what we're told, really does pay. For proof take a look at this story in The Washington Post.  Apparently drug dealers in the United States now send large packages through normal couriers like FedEx to addresses in the suburbs that they have identified beforehand. Thanks to modern technology they can track the package and wait until it is delivered. Such addresses are usually empty during the day when the residents are working, but if the packages do not have to be signed for they are left at the address in a safe place so that the dealers can come along and collect without anyone ever being any the wiser.

On this occasion the unwitting householders were at home because of all of the recent snow, and so they saw this package, hacked it open as you would, and, on finding coffee grounds lurking within knew immediately, as any viewer of any number of movies and TV shows knows, that drugs were sure to be present. Sure enough, beneath the many layers of packaging and coffee, was 33 pounds of marijuana. But such are the profit margins on a package like that, dealers can afford to take the risk that one will be discovered by ill, late or snowbound residents. The risk of losing the occasional package, even one in five, is acceptable. The risk of being detected - the senders address was fake - is negligible.

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