Saturday, August 26, 2006

Should the Opposition be More Pro-Active?

The Daily Telegraph has a bit of a go at the Shadow Cabinet, and indeed Tory backbenchers today in their leader column HERE. The headline reads WHERE ARE THE TORY HARRIERS? Here's how the editorial concludes...

From 1994, when Mr Blair became leader, until the 1997 election, he and his front bench worked tirelessly, as a team, to harry and discomfit John Major's ministers. They prided themselves on working through the summer recesses to keep the pressure on. We have simply not had that from the Tories. Yes, Mr Cameron has made a couple of August sallies - but where has his front bench been, other than on the beach? Most voters would be hard-pressed to name more than one or two of them. The Conservatives need to look like a government-in-waiting - it's not enough simply to have a leader who may look like a prime minister-in-waiting. When Mr Blair stands down - and most of his colleagues expect next month's party conference to be his last - his successor, Gordon Brown, will bring to Downing Street both an enviable strategic grasp and unrivalled front-line experience. He will be a truly formidable opponent, which is why the Tories have to lift their game. They have enjoyed the novelty of a charismatic new leader and reaped the political benefits. Labour is tantalisingly close to enjoying a similar leg-up. Too many Conservative politicians seem to feel the job is just about done. As they are about to find out, it is only just beginning.

So how fair is this? You can either take the point of view that even politicians deserve a holiday and the public also deserve a politics-free August, or you think that harrying the government is a twelve month, 52 week, 365 day a year job. The truth of course is somewhere in between. Of course leading politicians deserve a break, but the truth of the matter for Opposition Parties is that August is a gift of a month for them.

Political journalists have very little to write about so it's often easier to get the media to take a weak story seriously. Why do you think the media have spent so much time on trying to unzip the author of the Unzipped novel? Answer: because they've not got much more to do. Listen to the Today programme each morning and you'll see that they are struggling to fill their three hours. But this is an opportunity both for Shadow Cabinet Ministers, junior spokespeople AND Tory backbenchers.

I think the Daily Telegraph has a point. This week I can recall Chris Grayling doing something on transport broken promises, Philip Hammond saying something about 9 to 5 jobs and Damian Green on immigration, but I''d be hard-pressed to think of much else this month, apart from a couple of David Cameron initiatives on candidates, Built to Last and the war on terror.

Admittedly we're only in the second year of this administration but I'd like to think that next year the Conservatives will be a little more vocal. Harrying the government is the job of the opposition. We need more backbenchers rto follow the example of John Bercow and Eric Forth in the 1997-2001 parliament. David Davies seems to be taking on their mantle but we need more of his colleagues to take up arms and lead the charge.

Sure, we've got to present oursleves as an alternative government but we have to exploit any weakness there is in the government defences. And there are so many open goals waiting to be scored. It's all very well thinking that the government are doing their best to self-destruct - and they are - but we cannot just rely on that old maxim that governments lose elections, oppositions don't win them.

The Conservatives are now 6-9 points ahead in the polls at 38-40% in virtually every poll. This is real progress indeed, but as the Telegraph points out, we cannot rely on that lead holding if Labour elect a new leader who enjoys a honeymoon period. And the trouble with a successful honeymoon is that the new leader might think that is just the time to call an election. We've always got to bear that in mind. I hope that somewhere deep in the bowels of CCHQ there is a small group of people who are planning for just that eventuality, because if not, there ought to be.

PS But if the Conservatives are accused of being invisible, just where are the LibDems? Ming seems to have vanished from sight completely. As do his colleagues. Still, I musn't complain...


Bob Piper said...

Iain, the shadow cabinet are no more visible when Parliament is sitting. I suspect it is part of the Conservative "sell the Leader" strategy and relegate everyone else to minor walk on parts. It is a dangerous strategy. Should Cameron plunge in the popularity stakes... there is no Plan B and you can look forward to another 4 years in the wilderness.

ian said...

The media are clearly struggling. I've heard you on the radio twice this month.

Politicians seem to get more holidays than teachers.

Jonathan Sheppard said...

Bob you are being your usual positive self. Does Mr Gordon Brown's aninymity have anything to do with the fact that he wants to distance himself for the policy failings of this current Government I wonder?

Anonymous said...

Its the economy stupid ! No matter how certain it is that Gordon's economic miracle is heading for disaster, it hasn't happened yet. A little tightening of the belt caused by rising prices and interest rates doesn't produce a government meltdown.

The present headline dissatisfaction with Blair is mostly left wing dissatisfaction. How can the Tories make the pace ? If they attack foreign policy Blair will play the patriotic card.

It is assumed that Cameron's move to the middle ground is to attract moderate voters. Maybe, but its most important effect might be to influence the nature of the left of centre split of the vote. If the Tories do not appear too appalling in left of centre eyes the unofficial and unorganised electoral pact in the constituencies whereby Liberals vote Labour to keep out the Tories might fall apart.

Paul said...

David Cameron hasn't said anything to convince me that I should change my voting habits.

He's falling into the 'I want to be everything to everyone' trap as far as I can see.

I live in a safe Conservative seat but I haven't seen an MP or prospective MP in the twenty years I've lived here despite the fact that the local council ward in which I live always returns Lib Dem councillors. Instead of preaching to the converted it might help increase your party's chances across the country if you tried to win over those of us who are fed up with Nu Labour but can't see Cameron delivering the goods.

I think that for the Conservatives, to borrow from the words of my football teams most famous song it may be a case of "Fortunes always hiding."

Anonymous said...

Agree that the shadow cabinet are pretty inactive, whether through idleness or leadership dictat.
Anyway, it ain't healthy. They should be putting themselves about or making way for colleagues with a little more energy.
The biggest moaner about Tory inactivity is Tim Montgomerie of ConHome. Yet where is his hero, the good doctor? Still on his honeymoon?
Personally, I'm in favour of a reshuffle. It might concentrate a few minds.

Anonymous said...

emma f shares the wealth (although she can ill afford to share any mental wealth): "many conservative supporters have lurched so far to the neocon right that they are effectively unelectable."

How does one "lurch" to the right? Can one be sober, or is this something one does after a few drinks? What constitutes a "lurch", as opposed to a reasoned decision to adapt a more confrontational stance given new circumstances? Is it sudden, or can one "lurch" in slo-mo?

Your attempt to discredit Conservatives who do not agree with you fails because you are too intemperate.

"Goodness let's all have a rethink." No thanks. I had a rethink months ago and am very clear on what I think.

"We need a new forward-looking centrist and modernised Tory party that accepts internationalism and Europe, wants Britain to succeed" ... I believe the Tories have always been keen adherents of interntionalism and international commerce. "...accepts the value of public services and servants," ... Why? Why not accept the value of privately funded and managed services and enterprise and slash the number of public servants, who I refuse to appreciate, by, oh, 80%?

"... and leads the way on green industries" ... err, no. "... and support both for firm international policies against Islamic extremism," No, again. "International policies" is code for 15 years' blether in the UN from international thugs. Britain is perfectly capable of devising its own "policies against Islamic extremism" (these being, kill Islamic extremists).

"... backing for the US where it needs it and firm but rational policies on immigration and law and order." This empty sentence isn't worth commenting on.

Anonymous said...

It's a bitter pill for a Labour voter to swallow, but to be honest the Tories are clearly better off having a quiet summer. Labour's poll ratings are collapsing entirely because of their own actions, so why would the Tories need to stick their noses in? Especially so far (presumably) from a General Election.

Anonymous said...

Bring back "Spitting Image" - by far the most pro-active opposition.

Anonymous said...


"..slash the number of public servants, who I refuse to appreciate, by, oh, 80%?"

It's "whom", by the way, Verity. And these public servants "who" you refuse to appreciate doubtless include policemen/women, soldiers, doctors, nurses, dustmen, lollipop ladies, hospital porters, firefighters, prison officers, and others who do the sort of jobs that are beneath you.
You are truly the nasty face of the Conservative Party - no wonder Cameron has a struggle on his hands. Despite your sneer about her mental wealth, emma f speaks far more sense in one post than you do in dozens. Grow up.

Anonymous said...

I agree with "anonymous" and "emma".

I do agree a bit that the Shadow Cabinet seem a bit invisible at times, but I wonder if it's not an active strategy by the party? The Telegraph and the Hefferites are constantly moaning that with the government behaving so badly, we ought to be at least 500 million of your earth points ahead in the polls; but I'm not sure. I don't think it's such a bad idea to allow the government to flounder and stew on its own. If the shadow cabinet joined in the kicking on every issue they would be accused of bandwagonism (this happened to us in the past).

Two backbench Conservative MPs who are doing a great job are Grant Schapps (sp? Sorry!) and Richard Bacon. We heard Richard Bacon early on Friday morning on the financial slot of Today, talking about the NHS IT disaster - he was great, well informed, scathing about the government but constructive at the same time. I wish we heard more Tory MPs on the media like that.

Anonymous said...

anonymous 7:14 - You are correct. It is indeed whom. Careless.

"Grow up" in preachy, hectoring, bossy Britain means, "Be more like me." So thanks; I'll take a pass.

Doctors, nurses, hospital cleaners who keep hospitals filthy, porters, lab technicians, etc should not be in the public sector at all. So yes, I would slash them all. They are part of the 80%. There's no excuse for a Sovietesque "health service". Privatise it and free up the mandatory contributions so people in employment can buy their own health insurance. For the amount of their salaries the government commandeers and spends ill, they could buy very comfortable health insurance indeed.

Our armed services,cherish. They are part of the 20% I would gladly pay more for.

The police in Britain seem to work actively against the citizenry, so either a privatised police force, or elected police chiefs. (I favour the latter, having seen it work.)

You write: "prison officers, and others who do the sort of jobs that are beneath you." I don't know. I might quite enjoy being a prison officer as long as we were allowed to shoot attempted escapees.

I'm not any face at all of the Conservative Party because I don't belong and won't be voting for them as long as Brazilian Wax Cabana Boy is in charge.

But the public sector should be slashed by 80%. Let people buy the services they want from privatised companies, not be forced to subsidise other people's services.

You may think that emma shares the wealth's twinkletoes faux Conservatism is going to win an elections, but I would say most real Conservatives - who haven't even "lurched" to the right - will resist Cabana Boy.

Anonymous said...

Emma F is a bit out of date - "One Nation" Conservatism was possible in the 1950s because of collective experience in 6 years of World War..................this is no longer 'one nation' - it is not even the two nations of Disraeli's Sybil is in fact a disintegrating polity with no overarching themes and no ability of the political class to articulate an overarching narrative.

There are no institutions which bind, no common experiences, no common values - the 1970s stretched them, the 1980s broke them, the 1990s betrayed them -

Anonymous said...

Very well said,Rick.

Anonymous said...

Verity hasnt had much Id like to agree with her line totally. Emma F says conservative supporters have lurched to the right...I dont think so -- its the conservative head boys sliding to the left...

Anonymous said...

The shadow cabinet is so in the shade its no wonder we never see them or know of them or see them. The whole crew want sacking and replacing.Some of the best replacements are out there on the "DISAPPROVED LIST"waiting for there chance as local candidates.Also a few bloggers have of course said that you Iain are more effective than the shadow members.I say sack em all and thatll shake them into the political daylights.

Anonymous said...


HM Stanley said...

As a genuinely Anglo-American political junkie, one of my biggest pet peeves is the Brits' misuse of the term "neocon" or worse still, "neocon right"...and I mean you, emma f.

Fact: "Neocon" is not the "vituperative epithet" [for the legally inclined, Baron Bramwell's exasperated description of that strange adjective, "gross" negligence] of choice to hurl at the extreme right if one is so inclined. That would be "paleo-conservative", a la Pat Buchanan, Bill Buckley, Bob Novak, all of whom would take umbrage at being called neocons.

Fact: Neocons [Richard Perle/ex-CIA Director Jim Woolsey, et al] are actually former democrats who defected to the right as a result of the democrats' weakness in defence during cold war. The equivalent would be [name your Tory of choice] who defected to the the right in the 80s as a result of Labor's looniness and Maggie's seriousness in tackling issues of the day.

Fact: Most neocons are not that right wing at all. In fact, like Bill Kristol, they proudly call themselves "big government" conservatives [an equivalent of One Nation Toryism, if there is one].

Fact: People in the know would never describe Rummie/Cheney/Condi as neocons...sorry for those who hate them.

So let us get our terminolgies right.

Sorry. Had to get that off my chest!!!

Little Black Sambo said...

emma f: "Goodness let's all have a rethink." (cf. "We need a debate".) No, goodness, let's not. Direct your reforming zeal at the lib-dems where it belongs.

Iain Dale said...

John Coles, you are so very wrong. John Bercow and Eric Forth were very close during that Parliament and coordinated their activities. Indeed, I understand that they remained close personally right up to Eric's death. I remember someone telling me on the day Eric died that John Bercow was inconsolable.

Anonymous said...

hm stanley - Thanks so much for clearing that up. There's a particular type of chippy/leftie Brit, like emma f who is willing to share the wealth of misinformation she holds dear, who think they can understand American political usage by osmosis. They hear a phrase and, knowing nothing of the context, or indeed the personalities - does emma sharing the wealth have the faintest idea who Pat Buchanan is? - fling it around with terrible misplaced confidence.

Anonymous said...

What shadow cabinet?

strapworld said...


I did send you an email asking if you would ask your commentators what they thought of Ruth Kelly's Commission. I also asked if you knew the make up of this commission.

That the Cameron Tories have said nothing or queried the make up of this commission worries me.

Believe me the issue of race and immigration is one that needs a cool head and leadership. The white population is feeling disenfranchised from its politicians and that must be worrying.

I have noted elsewhere of a lunch on Friday I attended and the support amongst decent hardworking business people for the BNP. It is time for leadership and certainly not ridiculous headline grabbing statements such as today's South African nonsense....Cameron is in fact saying urban terrorism is okay by him, think about it!

The Daily Pundit said...

Strapworld said: "I have noted elsewhere of a lunch on Friday I attended and the support amongst decent hardworking business people for the BNP."

Two scrap dealers and one maggot breeder doesn't constitute support.

Anonymous said...

uk daily pundit - Why not gratuitously insult Strapworld and his/her friends, none of whom, presumably, you know? They hold an opposing point of view to your own, after all, so deserve to be insulted.

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio ... and there may be tens of thousands of business people somewhat more elevated than those of your imagination, whose frustration is going to boil over at the ballot box.