Will the “Flip-Flop Chameleon” Spin Work?

New Labour believes that they have to define the opponent in the public mind and frame the terms of the debate to destroy him. Hague, IDS and Howard got the treatment. With Cameron they have hesitated, apparently at Blair’s behest and to the dismay of Brown. Now we are led to believe they have agreed an attack and they intend to define Cameron as an unreliable policy chameleon – a flip-flopper. The on message, loyalist Labour whip, Tom Watson MP, blogs this spin (with a very colourful graphic). Whomever wrote Prescott’s recent speech to the Labour Party Centenary Conference summarised the line neatly:

He’s like a rainbow. The Yellow Cameron. The Red Cameron. The Green Cameron. The Blue Cameron. What we’ve got, is Cameron the Chameleon. He can change the colour of his skin at will but the political animal underneath is Conservative to the core.

As much as Tom Watson and the activist core loves this line of attack, they should be self aware enough to know that Labour performed a total policy flip-flop from the pre-1996 policies advocated by Messrs Blair and Brown to reach their 2006 policies. They flipped and are still flopping.

All Cameron has to do is say “yes, it’s true, we have changed” and this line of attack is neutralised. That is after all what the voters wanted. Change. Calling Cameron a flip-flopper clearly highlights and confirms the change for him. Advertisers always like to keep the message simple – the New Tory message is “we have changed”. The details are irrelevant to most voters. Daz does not advertise Persil’s new formula, why is New Labour advertising New Tory policy changes?

The Kerry precedent is not directly comparable – Kerry flipped, flopped and flipped again and again. The man was a policy oscillator. If Cameron retreats on a future policy change Labour may have a valid charge. But he hasn’t so far, and unless he does, this line of attack won’t work.




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