Whoever says Scottish politics is dull might want to take a look at last week’s unravelling saga around Labour controlled Glasgow City Council. Who would have thought when Gordon sat next to him on the Thursday before last that within a week one of Scotland’s up and coming politicians would have attempted suicide, that a police investigation would link the same man, Glasgow’s most senior politician, to major organised drug criminals and an 18-year-old Labour activist would be end up dead outside the city’s Council Chambers. As ever Gordon is pulling a Macavity on this one.
Steven Purcell was talked about as the saviour of the Scottish Labour Party, its brightest young star, he was tipped as a future First Minister. However if Purcell ever wanted a return to front-line politics, he certainly handled his spectacular fall from grace, spectacularly badly. No crisis manager could stop the drip, drip, drip of information concerning his party-boy lifestyle, snorting and drinking until the wee hours yet serving the city of Glasgow to a surprisingly competent degree. Yet he was in with the wrong crowd and in May last year some of Scotland’s top coppers visited Purcell in his council offices as his name had repeatedly cropped up in investigations. There was reason to believe that someone was attempting to blackmail Purcell with mobile phone footage of him.
Fast forward to last week and as Gordon was leaving Glasgow, Purcell was going into meltdown. Vodafone blocked his number after he abused call centre staff and he was found in tears talking nonsense at his desk. He ended up in the Castle Craig rehab centre. Although Purcell was earning fifty grand as council leader, you must wonder how much of this went up his nose and therefore who was paying for the rehab stay and for retaining of lawyers and crisis managers? Either way Purcell went missing from the rehab centre on Sunday night. Some have suggested he attempted to kill himself in open water as he was found soaked.
By now the story had started to emerge in the press and by Monday the internet was rife with rumours about Purcell stepping down because of cocaine rather than the “stress” cited in the official statement. We now know that Council staff wanted to blow the whistle but were stopped by Purcell’s mysteriously funded lawyers. As the week progressed the story unravelled more, Purcell’s vain attempts at crisis management were no match for overwhelming evidence. The final straw was the collapse and subsequent death of a admirer of Mr Purcell’s, a young Labour Party activist named Danus McKinlay who “worshipped” Purcell and “would do anything for him” . Guido understands that McKinlay was diabetic and there has been reason to believe that he had stopped taking his medication resulting in his subsequent collapse. Witnesses said they thought he was drunk – an easy mistake to make of someone who desperately needs insulin.
That was the final straw, within two hours Purcell had resigned as a councillor and has fled Scotland to an unknown sunny destination. Through all of this Gordon has remained silent. The ally he was once so keen to be photographed with, campaign for, tip for future greatness and fund-raise for, was left to the scrap-heap. What did Gordon know and when?
Mixed messages abound from pollsters, here is another one: a Mail/BPIX poll suggests that the biggest Tory weakness is a lack of a clear message. Labour’s key attack spin repeats endlessly ‘the same old Tories’ and ‘Osborne is too inexperienced‘ lines. Voters don’t think these issues are problems to the extent that they don’t know what the Tories stand for at the election.
Look at what would make voters more likely to vote Tory, traditional tougher messages on crime and immigration. Tax and spending cuts would also sway voters.
The Tory detox period is over, voters want the traditional medicine to cure the nation’s ills…
Peter Bingle has a point doesn’t he? Guido, like Bingle, talks to CCHQ insiders, spin-merchants, activists, media allies and wonks every day – almost all are agreed. It has been shambolic since January and the Tories are on the back foot.
Examining Bingle’s critique point-by-point:
Ashcroft was an entirely foreseeable problem, Tory high command hoped that because they had squared the Electoral Commission they had buried the problem. A strategic miscalculation based on wishful thinking. It completely undermines the “Cameron cleaning up politics” message of financial transparency. Told you so.
“Nobody knows what the Tory Party stands for any more.” Change is not an ideology, it is a process. Repeating the word over and over again is not a substitute for communicating thought out policies. Splitting the difference on policy, a.k.a. Finkism, might not scare off voters but nor does it get the vote out. Being 5% to the right of Blair with a dash of euroscepticism will not inspire people much. Voters want change for the better. Shadow ministers offering only a change of management and almost no change in policy won’t get the voters on their feet cheering.
Bingle says the advertising has hurt the Tories. In truth the advertising campaign posters have been mixed. Adverts need to address voter concerns simply and memorably. Labour might be right – in the digital age do paper posters even work that well?
“What is the strategy?” Steve Hilton better communicate it to the rank and file in a way that inspires confidence. There is striking irony in his top down diktats about localism, decentralisation, transparency and the importance of feedback in a post-bureaucratic age. Mandelson fights for his strategy from the front, Hilton sends memos from the back room.
Something Bingle didn’t focus on is policy development. We are weeks from the election and the Tories have still not formulated the policies they are going to fight on. No, really. Even when they do announce a policy it frequently unravels.
Guido will give you an example of a policy announcement that is going to unravel. We are told there will be a pro-business cut in the corporate tax rate, signalling that the Tories want to reduce the tax burden. We haven’t been given the exact details, just the gist of the policy.
Except, according to Mark Hoban, they will claw back the tax reduction by changing the treatment of various tax allowances such that the overall change will be revenue neutral. The effective rate of tax on corporations will be unchanged. It is change for the sake of a headline, a financial sleight of hand typical of Gordon Brown. Most businesses would rather not suffer the administrative upheaval if they are not going to get any revenue benefit. It is pure Finkism, signal an aspiration and promise to maintain the fiscal status quo.
Finkism is a product of fear. Fear of losing again. The Cameroons hoped that power would slip into their hands, they fear that if they do anything radical or bold they will lose. There is the alternative possibility that if they don’t clearly communicate a message of “change for the better”, not just a change of personnel, they will fail to make a compelling case. In only one area are they offering a radical change – education – with the result that the government is moving towards them policy-wise. If the Tories offered a bold change from high tax, high spending policies the government would not be able to match them, voters would have a real choice. Fink claims that voters don’t believe politicians promising tax cuts. That is not a failure of the policy, it is a failure of politicians to communicate credibly.
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You’re either in front of Guido, or you are behind…
Guido tweeted last night that Carol Vorderman seemed to be going a little Palin-esque for her appearance on Question Time. It turned out to be more than just the look. For someone who has been on television for donkey’s years, her performance last night was less than exemplary. Reading constantly from CCHQ briefing notes she gave a blizzard of Tory lines. As head of the Conservative “Maths Task Force” Vorderman seems to be edging towards a peerage, though this idea took a hit last night. Clearly someone in the Tory high command is a fan though.
Who could it be that is guiding the rise of Vorderman? Well Guido remembers hearing a certain Lord, like many men of a certain age, had rather a soft spot for her even before she was brought into the fold. Maybe in return for that peerage, Carol could help Ashcroft with his numbers…
Some come down…
There were grumbles from the blue rinse brigade when the Tories moved their conferences from the seaside and signed up to have them in Manchester or Birmingham for the next few years. Guido isn’t sure that the branching out strategy had to go quite as far as stealing the design of Manchester City FC’s website: