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Tuesday, December 22, 2009


An interesting article by Peter Oborne in the Daily Mail, generally regarded as the political journalist's political journalist on why the Conservatives aren't doing better in the polls.His answer includes
So the most important question in British politics this Christmas is this: why is David Cameron not doing a lot better?
One answer lies in the character of his opponent, Gordon Brown.
Although the Prime Minister is a spectacularly poor premier, he has an admirable inner resilience.

...more pressing, reason for Cameron's failure to secure an unassailable lead over Labour is down to the weakness of his frontbench team.
Back in 1996, Tony Blair led a very powerful campaigning organisation.

Orchestrated by Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson, it specialised in the vicious and unpleasant tactic of personal attacks on its enemies.

Huge resources were employed in trying to annihilate John Major and his government.
Such barbarous and unscrupulous politics is alien to David Cameron's nature and it is to his credit that he has not sought to emulate New Labour's unsavoury tactics.

As a result, however, Cameron has repeatedly failed to take advantage of Gordon Brown's unpopularity.
Cameron has also made one key error of judgment.

Until six months ago, the Tories possessed one formidable and courageous attack dog in the shape of his frontbench spokesman Chris Grayling. But Cameron foolishly promoted him to be Shadow Home Secretary.

Since then, Grayling has struggled to make an impact in his new brief, while the Tories have lost the services of their only seasoned rottweiler when it comes to attacks on Labour.
However the Tories do have a very effective "attack dog" on their back benches. David Davis of whom it was said before John Reid left politics
There's nothing quite like seeing David Davis in action as he scents blood. He'll be interviewed on Newsnight tonight following Charles Clarke's barnstorming interview in which he sticks the odd knife or two into Dr Reid's back. Having already secured the scalps of one Immigration Minister and Two Home Secretaries, you wouldn't bet against him getting a third, would you? Other members of the Shadow Cabinet may care to watch how it's done.
It is undeniable that Davis was indeed extremely effective in exactly the role Oborne says is needed. He also has the unearned inherited privilege of being raised on a council estate in South London & having a grammar school education. It may or may not be an unfair criticism of Cameron & his friends that they are "toffs" but bringing Davis back would certainly help dehorse what appears to be Labour's main campaign issue.

Of course Davis was Cameron's opponent when running for the leadership & he did let him go when Davis proved unruly (and correct, which may or may not mitigate) over continuing to fight ID cards. He may not be entirely happy about bringing him back but a real leader should do what is in the general interest ahead of any unbecoming personal feelings. My impression is also that Davis is an honourable man (no lesser person would have put his career on the line over ID cards as he did) & that if he accepts a front bench post he will carry it out with personal loyalty, even where they disagree on policy. If that assessment is correct and obviously I know no more than anybody else, then that is a rare commodity in politics that should be cherished.

I would also like to make a case for bringing John Redwood onto the front bench, preferably, as I have suggested before, as Minister for Cutting Things which he did so successfully as Welsh Secretary. Redwood, occasionally known as "Mr Spock" has, by common consent, probably the best brain in Parliament. The LibDems have gained considerable mileage from Vince Cable getting a number of economic suggestions right ahead of the government but in virtually all of these Redwood got them righter & earlier. The position I have suggested would allow him to face Cable & to force Cable to defend some very silly LibDem policies like windmillery which he must know to be disastrous to the country.

Overall I stand by my opinion that Gordon Brown is the best man in the Cabinet, which is not to say that he is very good, but that the rest are, except for Mandy, truly awful. The range of talent in the Conservative party is much greater.

At the moment the Conservatives are ahead in the polls but not by that much. Electoral Calculus today predicts a fair majority of 52 but any slippage from that could produce a hung Parliament. I am a strong supporter of proportional representation* but such a Parliament now, when a new government is going to have to make drastic cuts to stave off bankruptcy & would be wise to take Machiavelli's advice & inflict them all at once, would be unlikely to stand. The LibDems would be saintly not to demand their own pork barreling & put the blame on the Tories. So Cameron needs a secure majority he cannot coast. Assuming even a slight improvement of 2% from a return of the non-toff attack dog Davis gives the Conservatives a nominal majority of 112 seats which would allow them to confidently do what is needed.

* If Britain had a democratic PR system, as I wish we did, it seems likely that the "protest" votes would go at least as much to UKIP as to the LibDems. I think the Conservatives should support such a reform, not simply out of niceness or even because shrinking Labour constituencies and a smaller turnout in Labour constituencies, meaning they get more MPs under FPTP, but because the rise of UKIP would be in their interest. Any Parliamentary system requires opposition parties & often they are the only ones who can discuss alternative policies. It would be in their long term health if there were a traditional liberal free market opposition party as well as the statist Labour & "LibDem" parties. I also suspect the Labour party would not hang together after both severe electoral defeat & the ending of the electoral system that puts British politics in an electoral straitjacket.


Yes, I agree with both points on Redwood and Davis save I would make JR Chancellor not the very lightweight George Osborne. I would also make a case for Peter Lilley and if you could persuade him to do it, I would give one of the tory peerage places to John Major and make him shadow leader of the lords. Then they really start to look like the a-team.
I would be very happy with John as Chancellor but I don't think it is an option. The Cutting Things Ministry is a vital, though unpopular, one which he & he alone could do justice to. I agree about Lilley. I don't know that the Lords needs a first class nanny.
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