A Nelsonian eye

Fraser Nelson, at The Spectator, always gives good value, even when one needs violently to disagree. Actually, says Malcolm, that’s the best journalism: it makes one think, one has to ponder counter-arguments, and we all benefit from rubbing against the grain.

Here is the man himself:

Ed Miliband has adopted a rather simple strategy: do nothing, and wait for your opponents to screw up. It’s lazy, but undoubtedly effective. The Tories are playing along perfectly. The last week has given plenty ammunition for his new theme — which he repeated during his union Sponsored Walk yesterday — ‘they think they are born to rule, but they are not very good at it.’

There are five short(ish) paragraphs of that: Nelson believes in making his play, and leaving us to it. Good for Fraser — presumably he doesn’t pay himself by the line.

Labour-loyalists night be warmed by this died-in-the wool Tory’s conclusion:

Now, I think an Ed Miliband victory would be a calamity for Britain — he has no policies and his ‘predistribution’ nonsense suggests naïveté of the most dangerous kind. But recent weeks have done nothing to change the balance of probability pointing — just — to Ed Miliband sending Christmas cards from No 10 in just three years’ time.

There’s partisan loyalty and there’s realism: it looks as if Mr Nelson gets them both there. The telling headline, in Spectator tasteful red,  is:

Ed Miliband’s winning strategy

Malcolm took his dissection kit to that Nelsonian introduction:

Ed Miliband has adopted a rather simple strategy: do nothing, and wait for your opponents to screw up.

Well, yes. All administrations fall foul of time: the gilt wears off, the guilt sets in. The rate of polling attrition is usually measured at 1% per annum or so. It’s just that this shower accelerate the process immeasurably. Or, as Uncle Bill Shakespeare had it:

Thou hast described
A hot friend cooling: ever note, Lucilius,
When love begins to sicken and decay,
It useth an enforced ceremony.
There are no tricks in plain and simple faith;
But hollow men, like horses hot at hand,
Make gallant show and promise of their mettle;
But when they should endure the bloody spur,
They fall their crests, and, like deceitful jades,
Sink in the trial.

Ooh, err, Missus. From 1599, and still rings a bell.

Moreover, the whole ideology (not a good word ever to use in any British political context) of this ConDem coalition was to come in with a Plan, and in a fixed timetable to deliver it. Such sweet innocence.

As soon as any sensate being heard debt reduction, constitutional and electoral systems, welfare simplification, ‘eddicashun’ , Old Uncle Tom Cobley ‘n ‘ all, would all be sorted in a fixed time scale, eyes misted over. We all muttered, “Like hell’.  The more a government attempts, the less it will achieve — simply because targets are not that accessible, and the Great British Public simply do not like change. They are, and always have been small-c ‘conservative’. As it says on that eighteenth-century church bell in Essex:

Success to the Church of England, and no enthusiasm!

Apart from anything else, a fixed five-year parliament, with a definitive election date and closure set for May 2015, was guaranteed to work against the economic cycle. It denies the administration the one clear advantage it has always had — to go to the electors at the moment of its choosing. Those over-educated, but politically-illiterate public-school boys hadn’t understood Shakespeare’s pragmatism in Henry V, being dazzled by the initial flashy, bumptious rhetoric:

we’ll bend it to our awe,
Or break it all to pieces: or there we’ll sit,
Ruling in large and ample empery ..

It’s lazy, but undoubtedly effective.

Rubbish. The hardest job in British politics is to lead an Opposition — particularly a Labour one, in conflict with the bulk of the press, and the ever-surging power of Murdochery:

  • The first aim is to establish a personality — and Miliband has done that against a sustained onslaught from the capitalist press barons. Who now speaks lightly of ‘Red Ed’? Even Miliband himself makes a joke of it in his recent Conference speech.
  • Second base is to control the party: the amazing thing is how little dissent there has been in the Labour Party, given that drubbing through 2008-10. Compare the situation in 1980-82. If there was any doubt over Miliband’s grasp it was that he deliberately courted the booing of union extremists at the Hyde Park Rally yesterday.
  • Third base is to win the weekly jousting at Prime Minister’s Questions (so taking ownership of the thirty-second clip on the evening news bulletins). Over recent months Miliband has succeeded, against all the odds, in matching , confronting, annoying and seeing off Cameron. As long as Cameron cannot control his inner Flashman, he is doomed. Last week’s PMQs was a total disaster for him. Not only did Miliband draw blood over Mitchell as ‘toast’, Cameron offended conservative and parliamentary principles (certainly those of ‘good manners’ and noblesse oblige) by his dismissal of Chris Bryant:

Do you know what? Until he apologises, I am not going to answer his questions—[ Interruption]

Even Tory polemicists regarded one that as ‘possibly unwise’. So, next:

  • The Home Run is when the Tory press, as Nelson does here, start to see the light:

The Tories are playing along perfectly.

Not just the Tories. The LibDem element is pulling its weight.

The magnificent, magisterial Andrew Rawnsley, doing today’s Observer opinion piece, listed the heads for being mounted on spikes:

I can’t help feeling a tiny spasm of sympathy for the fallen chief whip. In the bumper book of cabinet resignations, a volume to which the coalition has now added four entries, this is a most bizarre chapter. One of his colleagues asks: “Should someone have a 30-year career destroyed because of a seven-second outburst?” You know, that’s a reasonable question.

There are strong arguments for why certain members of this cabinet ought to resign. Creating a complete mess of the reform of Britain’s most important public service would be a sound reason to leave ministerial office, but Andrew Lansley is still in the cabinet. Becoming intimately enmeshed with a media corporation to a degree that would be unacceptable even if that company were not also the subject of a criminal investigation would be another powerful reason for a minister to quit, but Jeremy Hunt is still in the cabinet, as, for that matter, is David Cameron.

Breaking a solemn manifesto pledge not to increase tuition fees could be regarded as a compelling reason to resign, but Nick Clegg and his Lib Dem colleagues are still sitting around the top table. In comparison, briefly losing your rag with a police officer seems to sit at the very trivial end of the spectrum of resignation-worthy offences, the more so when the officer involved had long since accepted an apology and the police had said they were taking no further action.

True enough. Indisputably so. Except that’s not the measure of this particular cock-up. As Malcolm was saying elsewhere:

General opinion now has it that such Mitchell outbursts were not previously unknown. So the answer might be “prevention rather than cure”. Note how, after “Thrasher”, we have the emollient Sir George — whom I’d regard as an inspired choice

My complaint above, and previously, is not whether the PM handled it badly (and he did), but what went wrong with the whole Downing Street operation. Any decent PR operator (hmmm … can we think of one?) should recognise when, if and how a “bad press” moment is containable. From the beginning this one wasn’t.

Similarly, once ‘Gids’ Osborne was rumbled over his shimmying into First Class on Virgin Rail, he should have had the sense to busy himself publicly with impressive paper-work.  Quite honestly, it didn’t matter if he were marking up form for the Profab Windows Handicap at Bath. Just look busy, puzzled, committed, engaged, involved in the public good. He didn’t: instead he allowed himself to be snapped, shoulders adjacent, with the pouting Polly, apparently watching an entertainment on an iPad (as right).

Which brings us to:

The last week has given plenty ammunition for his new theme — which he repeated during his union Sponsored Walk yesterday — ‘they think they are born to rule, but they are not very good at it.’

 And that is the bottom line here. For Miliband, by comparison, is getting good at it. Compare Osborne’s rail trip (and the public image thereof) with this:

The pendulum is swinging

Miliband may be über-Geek, but sooner, rather than later, the nation will finally tire of public-school amateurs.


1 Comment

Filed under Britain, Conservative family values, Conservative Party policy., David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Frankie Howerd, Fraser Nelson, George Osborne, Guido Fawkes, Lib Dems, Murdoch, Nick Clegg, Observer, politics, politicshome, The Spectator, Tories.

One response to “A Nelsonian eye

  1. Doubting Thomas

    Ed Miliband seems to be adept at masterly inactivity in contrast to Cameron’s potential fatal inability to distinguish between action and activity. There are some more banana skins on the road ahead – the Ministry of Terror’s ambitions to snoop on e mails, the secret courts to protect the association with torture on the part of our secret services and of course the horrors of the rail franchising mess and the wish of the elite to have a bigger and better airport. I’m not even going to think of the war against Iran should Romney get elected in the US.

    Incidentally the Kingfish up here in Scotland described our wee Tory boys as Lord Snooty and his pals. A bit unfair since Lord Snooty seemed to manage his gang quite well but as Cameron’s Aunt Mat is with the fairies perhaps he’s missing her gentle touch.

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