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.