Friday, September 28, 2007

Telegraph Column: Tories Must Do or Die in Blackpool

It was never meant to be like this. Labour was meant to roll into Bournemouth this week muttering about the failing leadership of Gordon Brown. The Tories would be going into their last ever Blackpool conference in a buoyant mood, with the polls showing a clear lead over Labour. Talk of an autumn election would be for the fairies. Except that Gordon Brown has confounded everybody, probably including himself. His conference this week has reflected his first three months in power – full of confidence and assertiveness. Brown continued his quest to steal the Tories' clothes and much of his speech could easily have been given by a Conservative leader.

One image from this week continues to haunt me – the sight of Alan Milburn and Peter Mandelson professing loyalty to Gordon Brown and declaring what a wonderful Prime Minister he is. This public display of total loyalty from two of Brown's sternest critics offers a warning to those travelling to Blackpool this weekend. In 2003 Iain Duncan Smith warned his party: "Unite or die." That warning should be heeded by all Tories next week.

Let there be no doubt. Urged on by the Brown spin doctors, the media will be on "division hunt" next week. Any criticism of David Cameron by the chairman of Middletown Conservatives will be blown up into a crisis for the Tory leader. A speech by Sir Bufton Tufton (the politician formerly known as Michael Ancram) hinting at the need for a different course will make front-page headlines in the Mirror. Be warned. It will happen.

Ah, I hear you say, but if we can't have a frank debate at a conference, what has the world come to? Isn't the fringe where politicians traditionally say what they really think? In normal circumstances, yes. But if the party can't recognise the need for unity when it could face a general election within weeks it will have demonstrated it has learnt nothing from the past decade and shown itself unfit to rule. Make no mistake, the electorate will be watching.
Every politician has a ''naughty brain", the one that craves attention. (Norman Tebbit, are you listening?) It's so much easier to say what you think and hang the consequences. You're flattered to be asked to speak at the fringe meeting of the Daily Bugle and there's part of you that knows that they're expecting payback. Well, this year, zip it. Keep your thoughts to yourself.

Lynton Crosby, the bombastic Australian who ran the party's last election campaign, used to suggest to all MPs and candidates that they look at themselves in the mirror every night and ask the question: "What have I done today to make a Conservative victory more likely?" Tories at all levels would do well to heed that advice in Blackpool next week.
In a strange way, Gordon Brown may have done the Conservatives a favour and shaken the party out of its complacency. Surely now every Conservative realises that they are up against the greatest machine politician since Lyndon Johnson. There's only one way to beat him – and that's to be determined in mind and united in purpose. Being the ''nice" party is just not enough. If this week hasn't proved the need for total war on Mr Brown, nothing will.

The shadow cabinet needs to get into attack dog mode and be relentless in its exposure of Brown's failures. The party needs to be far more innovative and aggressive in the way it campaigns. It's all very well coming up with policy after policy on widgets, but at the moment the Conservatives are letting Brown get away with blue murder. They should take a leaf out of ConservativeHome's The Wrong Man website and attack him where it hurts. It's not being nasty, it's what Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition is there to do – hold the government of the day to account for its actions. Too many open goals have been missed, particularly on economic and health issues.

If Gordon Brown wimps out and fails to call an election this autumn it's a decision that may haunt him for the rest of his life. The Conservatives will have had a very narrow escape and will be rejoicing in the fact that their collective bluff was not called. There is then a eight-month window before the next likely election date of May 2008. The Conservatives must use these nine months to recover the ground lost in the last three. It won't be easy, but it will necessitate a change of approach.

David Cameron should open up his close-knit circle of advisers. He and his team need to continue on the path they have set out, but to widen its appeal to those who have felt excluded. This doesn't mean a reversion to the ''core vote strategy", but it does mean expounding on core principles a little more often and a little more volubly. There will be plenty of opportunities to do so, the first being Mr Cameron's speech on Wednesday.
To read Telegraph readers comments on the article click HERE.


Anonymous said...

May be we are not doing as bad as some think. In the by-elections tonight, Conservatives would have gained Corby, Dover and Portsmouth North from Labour. In the North there was a Conservative gain from Labour in Fraser Kemp's seat.

Anonymous said...

Forgive me, Iain; I don't usually use bad language, but, this is bullshit. Being the "nice" party has never been the point, no matter what kitten-heeled Teresa Something had the impertinence to stand up on national television to promote. If this week hasn't proved the need for total war on Mr Brown, nothing will.

You allowed yourselves to be bullied by Blair to the point where that bizarre Teresa (can't remember this moron's last name) dubbed her own party the "nasty" party because they stuck to what they believe in. On national TV, she called us "nasty".

That is so bizarre.

And they applauded her. Shrinking and cowed. That's even worse.

And now you think your party has any credibility even among its own members?

And you think that credibility is going to be restored, a mountainous battle, by lightweight PR chappie David Cameron? Who was so aware that he was a lightweight with no credentials to be running a respected national party, that he hawked one of his major weapons, his child, who he apparently termed "disabled", to every magazine and features editor in Britain's media. For weeks and months?

After he got the leadership, we have only heard of this child once, and that was when he was collected in an NHS ambulance - PHOTO OP! - for something. David's smiley face was right there in frame,looking admiringly at the ambulance.

Teresa May did the Conservatives terrible, terrible, damage - because she opined on national TV that the socialist view of the Conservatives was correct - and yet she wasn't sacked.

I rest my case and devoutly pray for the demise of this disgusting party.

Everything Cameron has done and said has chased me and hundreds of thousands of others away.

We're all political. And we're all going elsewhere.

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

Well the Tories are doing fairly well in local government. Its just national that they are doing horribly indeed. There are reasonable, sane & intelligent councillors who must be looking on in horror at the idiocy flowing forth from CCHQ.

Ted Foan said...

Anon (1.01am) you are spot on. The national polls have to be wrong (except the bit about the LibDems being consigned to extinction) because my wife has decreed that if any TV programme has an image of Gordon Brown on it then it has to be turned off immediately. She can't stand him - I kind of agree but I like to hear what a twat he is.

She is my bellwhether on these matters - miner's daughter, ex-Coal Board worker, mother of a 10-year old, school governor, parent association member of the local school, etc, etc.

I can't believe that the majority of women in Great Britain find Brown and his politics attractive.

Cameron has to capture the women's vote in the new heartlands of the midlands and the north.

Sonicdeathmonkey said...

Absolutely spot-on Iain. This is crunch time for the Tory's. They must be united this week in everything they do. Any dissent will be leapt upon by the press and blown up, regardless of whether that is valid criticism or not.

Cameron is up against it with Brown, but he can turn it around. Next week is his only chance to really do it.

Anonymous said...

A good start would be for dave to give himself a stern talking to in the shaving mirror!

Anonymous said...

Well said, Iain. The Party has a choice - Shut Up ! Unite behind your leadership! Or face another decade in the wilderness as an inconsequential Debating Society. The left leaning media are out for scalps and dissent. and you can bet that the BBC will be trotting out Labour politicians by the score next week to rubbish any Tory ideas - those that Gordon hasn't "nicked" already (pity they didn't see the need this week for the Labour conference )

Unfortunately the ego's of some Party members and "Senior Figures"(who should know better) exceeds their common sense !

Anonymous said...

Are we saying that the electorate should now ignore all the utter rubbish he has been spouting for the last eighteen months?
Not to mention the fourth form stunts.
If he now appears to change tack he will not be believed-the heir to Blair has gone too far down the wrong road to make a change now.

Johnny Norfolk said...

You appear to forget that Mr Cameron does not like yah boo politics. He is allowing Brown to set the agenda and walk all over him. I fear with Cameron the election is lost. He is just a rich Tory with a guilt conscience about his wealth. The Tory party has to attack labour without any mercy all of the time, or loose.

Anonymous said...

Iain a brilliant article. Well done.

Anonymous said...

The stuff in the Telegraph today is encouraging - including the signals that a lot of the worst vote-losing proposals in the Gummer report are being rejected.

Even so, Iain's right in that many of the media have already decided the agenda for what conference they'll be reporting - helped along by the full Tebbit interview in the Times this weekend. Whatever.

Anonymous said...

The person he should sideline is Oliver Letwin. He is too clever by half. As my grandmother used to say, plenty of brains but no common sense. And utterly devoid of political nous.

Liam Murray said...

There's a tension here Iain and until we resolve it things won't improve.

Total unity IS key but you can only build that around a positive campaign - one built on a clear vision of what Britain under the Conservatives would look like. You almost certainly can't build it around the sort of negative or critical campaign you're urging (wrong man etc).

No matter how gifted your communications team or your speechwriters the public will only associate you with one theme in their head - either you're a positive alternative, full of ideas and refreshing policies or you're a player, a politician whose first instinct is to rubbish their opponents and squabble. This is why Brown didn't even mention us or Cameron at the start of the week, above the fray and all that.

Granted, David can't sensibly get through his speech next week without referencing the last 10 years - he's an opposition leader. But that's not an excuse to run a campaign built, certainly in the eyes of many of the public, on what we're not rather than what we are.

I would dearly love to see David speak for 90mins next week without mentioning Brown by name once. The Labour party yes, and regular references to their failings over the last decade but each one immediately followed by a positive reference to what we would do differently.

Hate to disagree Iain but if he stands up next week and delivers lengthy passages on Brown's failings and character flaws, laced with jokes to please the floor and the Telegraph, there will be a superficial bounce and some soothing noises from his recent critics but comes Christmas the polls will be right back where they are today.

Anonymous said...

Holding the Government to account is one thing; trying to find every opportunity to make every bit of bad news government-centric is seen by many for what it is - a cynical exercise in power-seeking. The Tories are still stuck in the time capsule of traditional party politics. It's not lots of different policies and attacks on the Government that the electorate wants - "the new politics" that everyone professes to espouse should be about strong leadership and party interest being (perceived, at least, as being) subordinate to service. Doing the job, not posturing. Brown's spin people seem to have grasped that better than Cameron's team, and it's Brown who is showing himself better at faking sincerity right now.

As for discipline, Iain: isn't that another way of saying "ignore your principles and do as directed by the Whips." Listening to Hazel Blears on Today this morning should have reminded everyone what a turn-off that is.

Anonymous said...

I wish that our Dave and his mates were in labour attack mode,but I suppose silence is golden when you haven't a clue over decent policies and you think green is everybodies favourite colour,still I suppose we can lose this GE and get another career politician off the shelf and try again,but will we all be dead in a few years with mercury poisoning when this lot ban ordinary light bulbs and make us buy flourescent power saving ones.

Justin said...

It's die then, isn't it? Labour might have ruined this country in the last six years but the Tories have been utterly complicit in that by being a weak and ineffectual opposition without precedent.

The Tories haven't just betrayed themselves but the whole country in their failure to protect not just their supporters but the rest of us who look to 'Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition' to attempt to rein in a government of this undemocratic and authoritarian stripe.

For that reason alone, the Tories deserve to be smashed at the next election. I for one, and I'm sure I'm not alone, wish both you and New Labour could lose.

Anonymous said...

Gordon Brown will probably announce the general election just as David Cameron steps up to make his speech next week. I think Gordon Brown is over-confident. Do you?

Anonymous said...

It's strange with these blogs but I can't help thinking that all Dale's 'let's hope there's no election' stuff is just a double bluff. Now that people pay attention to the blogs it must give bloggers pause as to whether they say what they think or say what they want people to think that they think.
Does he really think it would be a disaster for the Tories...?

Newmania said...

Thats all very well Iain but you have criticised every attempt of David Cameron to link Conervative thinking with Liberal concerns. You profess loyalty but when it comes down to details you are always niggling . You have not " Become the change ". have you.

This sitting on the fence and keeping your feets in both camps is , no doubt , a pleasurable experience but I think now would be a good time for you to demonstrate your commitment to the cause.

There is no better way than by giving Boris Johnson the unequivocal support you have so far withheld. His views on the use of the GLA on housing caused me to involunantarily burst into song on the tube and the London cammpaign might just be the spark to light the Tory watch-towers across the land.

Support Boris,Support David Cameron save the Country. SIMPLE.

Anonymous said...

Tories die in Blackpool ?

Anonymous said...

"This doesn't mean a reversion to the ''core vote strategy", but it does mean expounding on core principles a little more often and a little more volubly."

Do I detect the merest hint of a U-turn here, Mr Dale ??

I think you have somehow missed the main point here though. You say there is a need to 'unite or die'. But you have missed the key point.

Norman Tebbit and Michael Ancram probably agree with that - it is just that they want to unite around a different policy position [and to be honest, possibly a different leader] because they can't see the party possibly being united in the long term around David Cameron.

Personally I don't agree with that - as David Cameron's policies are the future, and the 'old farts' need to catch up with him. But this requires a more detailed analysis of how the party would need to get there than just 'shut up, and put up with it'.

Anonymous said...

Did you manage to get your by-line changed, Iain? I must say it makes me choke over my Cheerios whenever I see that chief of staff malarkey. I write as a former chief of staff myself. The question I really have is, if it's good enough for the Telegraph, is it good enough for my CV?!

Much love

Guinness Panda

Alfie said...

The inability of Cameron's Tories to slot the ball into so many gaping political open goals since the Dauphin Brown ascended the throne has been a truly depressing spectacle.

Brown seems to do and say what the hell he likes - and no one says anything. It doesn't seem to matter that a week before, he said the exact opposite - 180 degree about-faces are apparently OK in Brownworld... Well they must be, because the only people who seem to highlight the arrogance, the lies and the spin are grassroot bloggers! It certainly doesn't come from the 'Opposition'.

We are careering towards a one party state - the Tories need to get off their collective pontificating arses and start to get passionate and aggressive about the politics of new Labour....

The future of this country depends on it.

anthonynorth said...

Our 'esteemed leader' is doing so well because the Tories are not pointing out his errors. As for the Tories, they are failing because they're trying to be too nice. No one believes it - even Tory voters such as myself.

Anonymous said...

Erm, i can understand your point about 'unity' at conference Iain; but if we KNOW that DC is leading the party to disaster- then we, as party members, are entitled to say-'rethink required'. I think ALL party members understood the need to 'modernise', but not to the extent where we turn into- God help us- Liberal Democrats ( or the SDP Mark II). If The Telegraph front page today is accurate, what the hell has DC et al been thinking the past year!?! If GB calls a GenElec- and we are staring into ANOTHER Labour landslide a complete re-think is required:- more pro-English nationalism, PC eradication, EU referendum, hardline on law and order/immigration/integration of incoming 'cultures'- alonside good social policies like bringing back dentistry into the NHS & building council housing as in the 1970's.

Unsworth said...

The Tebbitt/Ancram tendency is a manifestation of a self-indulgent lack of personal discipline.

These guys are happy to risk election success as long as they can express their 'interesting' views. That is crass and selfish. Tebbitt with his huge ego never knew when to shut up, and Ancram has made a fool of himself far too often to be taken seriously.

There are others in the Conservative Party who tend to shoot from the lip. Some of them actually talk sense. But if they really want to oust this criminal government they need to buckle down and do some sensible work rather than playing at being politicians.

Old BE said...

Iain isn't this article a good example of exactly what you are attacking others for?

By writing it you are sending the disunity message loud and clear - in a national paper no less!

Perhaps your articles would be more usefully directed to attacking Brown than attacking your own side?

Voters are getting increasingly frustrated - they hate Brown but have nobody else to turn to. Instead of berating other Tories why don't you answer the question: "what would Cameron do?".

Romsey Rapid said...

Iain, a good article and the sort of sensible thinking that we need from all Tory supporters.

We all hope that we have a cracking conference next week to stop some of the 'egos' in our party shooting us all in the foot.

However, if we do, what have we got to look forward to. 3 more years of Brown-spin as the country goes even more to the dogs.

Anonymous said...

Today Cameron is heir to Thatcher, yesterday he was heir to Blair. To be honest the Cameron Brand is so devalued and meaningless nobody knows what he stands for apart from an association with all sorts of uncongenial green policies. The party won't get rid of him so the General Election is basically lost. Therefore all Conservatives should concentrate on getting Livingstone replaced by Boris. That is both a winnable fight and a worthwhile cause.

Anonymous said...

Looking on the bright side - if a party isn't supported by verity, then it is over the first hurdle of my being willing to support it.

I am also glad to see how willing you are to shoot the messenger, Teresa Gorman. She is more of a woman than that obese Mexican ever will be.

Anonymous said...

Justin @ 9.17am,

The Tories haven't just betrayed themselves but the whole country in their failure to protect not just their supporters but the rest of us who look to 'Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition' to attempt to rein in a government of this undemocratic and authoritarian stripe.

Well said! I agree with every single word. The Tories seem to have forgotten the main point of being an opposition party. They are not there simply to secure power for themselves, but for the good of the nation. The leadership has let down, not just the party members, but the whole country who surely have a right to expect a halfway decent Opposition to hold the Government to account.

I am currently reading Peter Oborne's The Triumph of the Political Class. Essential but depressing reading. It just confirms the view of many that these career politicians in both main parties, are only interested in politics for what they can gain for themselves,

Anonymous said...

Anyone who thinks the way to win General Elections is to be the 'Heir to Thatcher' clearly hasn't read the excellent John Sergeant book 'Maggie - Her Fatal Legacy'.

It is why Labour have been in power for ten years, and stand to get another ten years at the wheel.

ALL Tory leaders since Thatcher have been under her spell, or influenced by her, or terrified of pissing off her supporters - hence the 'bastards' comment by Major.

And just when it looks like David Cameron has exorcised that ghost of elections past, he has folded his hand and reverted to the failures of the past three General Elections .

Have the Tories learnt nothing from the success of New Labour by moving from their historic, failed policy platform, and winning the centre ??

Anonymous said...

The Tories will never be in power again while Thatcher is alive - only once the old bird has popped her clogs will the change in the party move from the 'continental drift' rate of evolutionary change to the real revolution the party requires to be a force on the national political stage.

Anonymous said...

"The truth is, Cameron has only one way to go - forward, upward, onward. He won when he was brave, surprising and honest. He lost when he faltered. Embracing progressive social attitudes on sex and race made him a winner.

Retreating to his absurd £20 marriage bonus, he tripped. His old party has nowhere else to go: he can only win if he ignores them."

HOW VERY VERY TRUE THAT IS!!!,,2179008,00.html

Neil Reddin said...

One the subject of conference media coverage, I've just done the latest YouGov survey. A standard tracker to start with, but then it includes some more interesting questions...

Anonymous said...

"The inability of Cameron's Tories to slot the ball into so many gaping political open goals..."

It's the effortless ability to score so many political own goals that depresses me. It either keeps your own supporters away from the game or makes them cheer on the other team.

Anonymous said...

Well, that's the job application out of the way, but why anyone should want to work with that shower is quite beyond me.

It's like applying to be Health and Safety Officer on the Titanic after it hit the iceberg: top marks for enthusiasm, now let's look at your risk assessment skills.

Johnny Norfolk said...

I think Verity is spot on, and I agree with her 100% on this issue.

Madasafish said...

Verity as usually speaks obvious bullshit.

IF the Conservatives had just won 3 elections, IF they were riding high in the opinion polls, IF they were respected , she would be 100% correct.
But they were not...They were the NASTY party. And opinion poll after poll said that sensible policies would be rejected if the listener knew they were proposals by the Conservative party.

I know reality is difficult for her but to say "I devoutly pray for the demise of this disgusting party." shows she is not a Conservative supporter.

As far as Ian's article is concerned, it makes sense. To most Conservative inclining voters it amkes sense.
We all know Ancram is an old relic and Lord Tebbit is an embittered old man. Neither are credible in today's politics... nor is Mrs Thatcher: remember she was so out of touch at the end she said "We are a grandmother" and introduced the Poll Tax.

So lets look to the future.

It's a pity most Conservatives are so intent on repeating the errors of the past.

If DC can get some sensible policies, if the Shadow Cabinet can connect with the electorate, if they can score some goals against Brown.. and admit they were wrong on Iraq..

I'm not holding my breath. I want them to win - unlike Verity. But I am apalled by the shambles.

If they don't sort it out, we'll lose again.

Autumn election? Bollocks imo.

Anonymous said...

In an ideal world Conservatives wouldn't have had Labour MPs acting as their warm-up act. The nation's in an an advanced state of catatonia after listening to Brown and Milliband and will take some rousing.

Anonymous said...

Well said Iain and even more well said Alfie at 9.54am

Guthrum said...

Better get my black tie out of storage then !

@molesworth_1 said...

you bunch of oiks are really, really screwed. good.
verity - it was Theresa May (not Gorman) who, quite rightly, publicly admitted what a Nasty party you really are, and you're comment about "praying" for something or other does nothing to dispel the notion that you lot are also the 'f***ing idiot' party. Don't do God...seriously, it's worse than smack.
plus which, well done Iain for seeking to condense the current tory dis-unity on the comments pages for both this & the DT's blogs, but i fear it may well spill out from these confines. oh dere, hem-hem... i really AM looking forward to next week.

Andrew Ian Dodge said...

Camoron takes the Conservatives to the left of Labour and then demands allegiance and loyalty.

How about Cameron & Co loyalty to the legacy of all thats Conservative? Or the fact that he and his bunch gutted the candidates list of anyone who is not a wet like them? Camoron & Co is reaping what they have sown.

SteveH103 said...

Where was Cameron and the Tories last week during the labour Conference. He should have been attacking every speech. I guarantee that this week Labour Spindoctors will be out in force listening every day and criticising everything and doing interviews for the news channels so that people will see on the evening news every night Labour telling us where the Tories are wrong.Cameron is just too timid, a big disappointment and as for his environmental policys courtesy of that idiot Zac Goldsmith-total voteloser.

Anonymous said...

"What have I done today to make a conservative victory more likely?"

Step one... vote for a party that IS conservative, and not led by some floppy, wet, lefty jerk.

Personally, I hope the constituency members mentioned in the Spectator, who are going to Blackpool to see Dave get 'a good kicking', are not disappointed.

Anonymous said...

Norman Tebbit is an absolute disgrace. Maybe a period of silence would be welcomed from him?

Tebbit, Heseltine and Ancram, et al. always crawl out of the woodwork - yesterdays men who come up and balls the Conservative's chances up. They weren't good enough in their time, and naked envy and jealousy makes them come out and deliver their views as if it were manna from heaven.

Well, Tebbit and the Usual Suspects, if you're thinking of opening your traps this weekend DON'T. Go back to your retirment home, and prepare your cocoa.

Johnny Norfolk said...

Madasafish. ( good name for you )

We will find out who is right and wrong at the next election. I hope I will be wrong, but I will be right and you will be wrong.

The Conservatives can only win as a party of the right.
They never wanted Mrs T.,the wets that is. They are now running the party and what a mess it is,

Everyone can see that Cameron is posh wide boy. Brown has completly wrong footed him.
Its Camerons fault for being to green,wet and left.

Anonymous said...

Alex b, you do spout a lot of drivel. If you'd actually met Tebbit you'd know how preposterous you claim is that envy or jealousy has anything to do with his motivation. He just happens to be a man of principle (god forbid that in a politician...) who is watching as the current leader of his party jettisons everything he, and many others, believe in and fought for while in office.