So, er, what is Cameron’s message?


10:03 am - April 22nd 2010

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contribution by Tim Fenton

One could forgive the electorate for not knowing what Young Dave and his jolly good chaps are trying to tell them: yesterday brought yet another series of posters, the message being that a Cameron Government would be tough on anyone who chose to remain on benefits rather than take a job.

But this isn’t an original idea, and nor does it follow logically from any other recent Tory poster campaign. And thereby hangs the problem: the message keeps changing. First we had Young Dave in honestly-not-airbrushed mode, followed by the apparently less than successful “I’ve never voted Tory before …” series. Then with the arrival of M&C Saatchi there was a change to attack adverts featuring Pa Broon smiling.

And now we have Cameron apparently endorsing a crackdown on the lazy and unemployed (an easily demonised and therefore soft target). To all these changes of tack can be added the hurriedly changed Party Election Broadcast from earlier this week, the original being pulled and replaced by Young Dave basically pleading with the public to vote Tory, and not, repeat not, for anyone else.

There does not appear to be any underlying strategy to the Tory campaign, something that Alistair Campbell has been banging on about regularly. And this is something that the Tory cheerleaders do not, or cannot, address: moreover, there is no thought that what appeals to them might not even register with the average voter.

The latest poster was rapturously received by Tim Montgomerie and all those other clever people at ConservativeHome who talk loudly in restaurants. They could do worse than heed the wise observation of Lyndon Johnson when reflecting on the subject of economics: “Did y’ever think … that making a speech on economics is a lot like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but it never does to anyone else”.

The thought of Montgomerie, Isaby and the rest getting sore legs to no purpose is one to savour.

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Reader comments


If you actually read some of the posting on ConservativeHome tho… it’s as if you’ve fallen thru’ the looking glass.

They are still posting about winning 40% of the vote, and being able to form a government: has someone spiked their water cooler with crack or what?

Last night I went to listen to the Tory candidate in my area (the previous MP). This is a safe Tory seat so he should not have to even try to get elected, so this is just him giving the party line. The message I got was:

– immigration
– pregnant teenagers
– “lock ’em up and throw away the key”

The immigration issue is a hot topic, yet the area is incredibly homogeneous white. The message was “bring 100,000s per year down to 10,000s a year and use that **as a starting point**”. The guy said that he would prefer no immigration **at all**.

Very strong on the “no benefits for no work” issue, but more concerning, he pushed the “single mothers getting ahead of the housing list” and even mentioned that it was wrong for a girl to get pregnant to get housing (ie the pregnancy is a means to an end). He pushed the Tories “workhouse” (my term) idea that pregnant teenagers should be put into shared accommodation. No mention of sex education.

Bizarrely he said that drug addicts should not be given methadone, that they should get off heroin (presumably cold turkey).

I got the impression that he was essentially reciting the manifesto, so he was not a rogue right-winger.

I think the campaign is going to get much nastier, the vigilantism in “Let’s cut the benefits…” is just a start. Just wait until they put up a poster about pregnant teenagers… I predict that after this election many Tories will be ashamed of the things their posters have said.

What’s new?

“‘Get on your bike’ was the advice Norman Tebbit gave to millions of unemployed people in the 80s.

“He believed they should move from areas experiencing severe economic decline – such as the North East and parts of Cumbria – to places where work could be found, or found more easily.”
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/politics_show/6660723.stm

That is the regular Conservative policy prescription for rising unemployment whenever the economy wobbles.

BBCTV even based a hugely successful sitcom series on that notion in the 1980s – Aufweisen Pet:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/drama/pet/

Btw after the management of Britain’s economy during the 1980s, it wasn’t until the final quarter of 1995 that Britain’s standarised (ILO) unemployment rate declined below that of France, Germany and Italy.

Recall John Kay’s recent comment in the FT:

“The macroeconomics taught in advanced economics today is largely based on analysis labelled dynamic stochastic general equilibrium. The unappealing title gives the game away: the theorists are mostly talking to themselves. Their theories proved virtually useless in anticipating the crisis, analysing its development and recommending measures to deal with it.

“Recent economic policy debates have not only largely ignored DSGE, but have also been remarkably similar to the economic policy debates of the 1930s, although they have been resolved differently. The economists quoted most often are John Maynard Keynes and Hyman Minsky, both of whom are dead.”
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/19491372-472c-11df-b253-00144feab49a.html

I note from the OP that “the lazy” are “easily demonised”.

Should this not read “rightly demonised”?

And Richard @ 2

You say that your Tory PPC even mentioned that it was wrong for a girl to get pregnant to get housing (ie the pregnancy is a means to an end).

Are you suggesting that he is wrong?

Richard

I predict that after this election many Tories will be ashamed of the things their posters have said.

I don’t. They are inherently nasty.

The problem is for some ridiculous reason people respond better to “Let’s cut benefits..” rather than “let’s stop tax evasion”. From what I can tell benefit fraud costs the taxpayer £1 billion; tax evasion costs (at least) £15 billion. But the right-whingers will never demonise the rich like they do the poor.

The Tories spent most of 2009 attacking Brown, fairly viscously. The hope was that the Tories would win by default. In the short-term this worked.

However the problems with this strategy were:-

– it was unsustainable and became OTT, and it probably peaked too early
– it relied on a band-waggon effect (“everyone knows how uselss Pa Broon is”) with few specifics
– the risk was that it would reduce the Labour vote without increasing the Conservative vote, with the possible result that Cameron would become PM with a lower share of the vote than even Blair had achieved
– people dislike Brown for diametrically opposed reasons: some dislike him because he has a touch of smelly-socks Old Labour and some because he didn’t distance himself enough from Blairism
– Cameron was to some extent presenting himself as another Blair, which annoyed his own party and also annoyed the new floating voters whose problem with Labour was more Blair than Brown
– Clegg came along and became a pole of attraction for the new voting voters fed-up with New Labour (and ironically this group had partly been created by the Tories viscous Brown-bashing of 2009).

So the anti-Brown vote has gone to Clegg, at least for the time being. The Conservative Party didn’t really have a message (except it’s anti-Brown one) and it is probably too late to create one.

The Conservative Party have a core vote of about 25% of voters in traditional Tory areas. The Labour Party have a core vote of about 25% of voters in traditional working class constituencies. About half of voters are floating voters. They have a very wide range of views but in many ways are more modern. Both main parties have tried to woo this group by claiming to have modernised their parties, though this is always a tenuous process because
– the core group of voters for each party doesn’t necessarily want modernisation of their parties
– the modernisation of the two main parties is more spin than substance and doesn’t create a strong attachment to either Party by this new floating voters.

For example Labour can no longer promise a workers’ paradise to its core vote. It is therefore trying to retain it by promising a focus on crime, with disdain for civil liberties. This repulses a section of the floating voters that give importance to civil liberties. Cameron’s face is supposed to attract modern floating voters but many are not really convinced that the Tories have changed; this image also annoys some traditional Tories.

Clegg has thus mobilised the modernising vote. This may not last: modernisation is a very slippery agenda, and there are many differing views on key subjects within this group of voters. But he seems to have mobilised (for the time being) voters who are tired of being taken for granted, and tired of being an after-thought for two main parties whose core constituencies are elsewhere. Neither of the two main parties has had a clear message, up to now, and the interest in the LibDems has left them looking very awkward. The Tories are faced with the dilemma: do they attack Clegg’s liberalism or do they try to appropriate it. The present tactic seems to be to get the Tory press to attack liberalism while the Tories themselves talk about the dangers of a hung parliament. But maybe the voters really do want a hung parliament, even if the stock exchange cannot open on Monday morning.

Men in the 21-40 age group do travel far to seek work, not only within the UK but round the world. You’ll fnd Scots and Geordies on oil rigs off west Africa and on building sites in the Middle East. The problems are

– this does nothing for youth unemployment; teenagers are left with lttile to do and with often no father at home
– it is unsustainable after the age of about 40
– it is insecure.

9. Shatterface

More punitive benefit regimes and ‘gulags for slags’ are Labour policy too.

These are areas the Lib Dems should be making inroads in by being outspokenly, you know, *liberal*. There’s 2,500,000 votes in being decent to the unemployed alone.

“So, er, what is Cameron’s message?”

How about: “Go back to your constituencies, and prepare for opposition (again)!”

Bloody hell Shatterface – I completely agree with your comment at 9. I’m going to have to go lay down in a darkened room now.

INteresting to note, that the US have unemployment higher than the UK, but long term unemployement significantly lower. Might have something to do with the fact that the US don’t offer long term benefits, unlike the UK.

@12 Tyler

Oh yeah.. far better to have a social system based on an underclass of poor helots and illegal immigrants with no safety net whatsoever.

Any other great ideas you’d like to import from across the pond?

#4. pagar

Re you seriously saying that the Daily Mail is right that young women invite in a foetus just to jump the housing queue? It is the language that I found detestable. Young girls do get pregnant, but that is an education issue. Demonising pregnant teenagers is gutter politics.

@ Galen10

The US also manages to protect their borders far better than we do. The proportion of illegal immigrants per head of population is lower there than here.

But feel free to trot out the ill-informed lefty view that the US has no social security. It does.

Tell me, would you rather have a massive problem of long term unemployment, like the UK, where people spend their entire lives on the dole, or would you have a short term problem where people are incentivised to get off the dole and into work.

Not that this is an argument you can win either – the UK is so broke that benefits, social security and the public service are all going to have to be cut dramatically thanks to a certain Gordon Brown.

#7 Guano

Interesting analysis. On Radio 4 at the weekend some pollster (I forget which) stressed very strongly that the core Tory vote is 30%. Is there a reason why he was adamant at 30% and you suggest 25%? Is there any published study about this?

I think the “Big Society” “invitation” went down like the proverbial lead balloon with the Tory core vote, and it did not inspire swing voters. Cameron has lost big time there.

For that reason, I think you are right that Cameron can now only rely on his core vote.

His strategy now appears to be “ignore the manifesto, you know what we really want to do”. Labour have flat lined. If you look at the trends (rather than the upsy-downsy individual polls) they seems to be at a core vote of 28%.

The trends have shown that the Tories have been losing support from the beginning of the year. That corresponds with the first of the “draft manifestos”. Basically, as soon as their policies came under scrutiny the public started to walk away. Now they seem to be suffering from manifesto deflation, since the manifesto launch the trends show a 5% fall (maybe some of it due to Clegg). I don’t believe that the manifesto deflation can last much longer. If you look at the trends their support took a nose dive with their manifesto launch, Clegg has just accentuated that drop, not caused it.

The LD rise is not wholly due to the debates either. Again, the trends show that there was a steady rise from the beginning of March which corresponds with a steady drop in Labour support from the beginning of March that tailed off at the beginning of April (the LD rise was more than the Labour fall). Can anyone suggest why March was “switch from Labour to LD” month?

My guess is that Labour are at their core vote level. They cannot sink any lower. Cameron is still suffering from an monumentally misguided manifesto and he will suffer some more – maybe until mid next week – before he will hit his core vote buffer. I have no idea what the LD vote will do.

Oh, and one thing to add to my first comment. Several times the local Tory candidate (previous MP) mixed up the deficit and debt. I have noticed that too many politicians and commentators are doing this and IMO it shows that they should not be trusted.

@15 Tyler

“The US also manages to protect their borders far better than we do”

Arguable. Last I heard there were a fair number of illegals within the US waiting for an amnesty, and I assume that their status would preclude them from most “official” social security measures?

“The proportion of illegal immigrants per head of population is lower there than here.”

You may be right that the proportion per head of population is less than here, assuming it is correct and counts all those under the radar of course? My point about the reliance on immigrant labour (whether illegal or “official”) and on an underclass of poorly paid and protected workers, is that it is not a model most people in the UK would want to emulate. That’s the reason taxes are so low for the middle class and the rich – why else have the GOP been so hysterical in their reaction to Obama’s health care reforms?

“But feel free to trot out the ill-informed lefty view that the US has no social security.”

It’s hardly a uniquely lefty view that large sections of US society have no social security safety net as we would describe it. I didn’t say it has no social security, but that wouldn’t include the pool of illegal workers which do a lot to prop up the US economy anyway.

“Tell me, would you rather have a massive problem of long term unemployment, like the UK, where people spend their entire lives on the dole, or would you have a short term problem where people are incentivised to get off the dole and into work.”

It’s a false dichotomy. I wouldn’t want either. I didn’t say I thought there was nothing that could be done, or that things couldn’t be improved in the way we handle it here. I do have doubts that the US model would be applicable (or desireable) here.

As to your final paragraph, I’ve no love for Pa Broon or nauseating the New Labour project as a whole. Whatever their faults, they can’t be blamed for all our current woes.. plenty of right wing governments around the world are just as badly off, if not worse. It’s not as if the USA seems in a great state either… and I know I’d rather be poor and jobless here than in the USA. (Oh, and spare me the neo-con homily that “people are incentivised to get off the dole and into work” in the USA)

Re: Shatterface @ 9

Not to mention the millions more constantly moving between temporary contract jobs, unable to plan for the future because they could be sacked at any minute for no reason. Affordable houses, a student debt amnesty and a financial safety net between jobs is all it would take. Ten million votes I reckon, right there for the taking, and Labs and Cons are too busy fighting over the upper-middle classes to notice.

I don’t even think the LDs are the answer to the countries woes – that would have been Old Labour, had they still existed – but when the other parties battle over totalitarian right-wing stuff, and the media presents this as the totality of politics, it’s no wonder that Clegg looks fresh and exciting to young voters.

Even now he’s spreading like wildfire through the facebook/4chan meme-o-sphere, representing anything and everything to voters who don’t know what they want, but don’t want what they’ve got. It’s pretty much the Obama effect in fast-forward, except, where Obama’s honeymoon was over by the Summer, Clegg’s will probably be clicking into full gear by election week.

The Tories will try to smear him in their newspapers, but I suspect Clegg’s got the swarming, unstemmable might of the internet generation on his side, and we already know how that goes.

@ Gwyn 19

“I don’t even think the LDs are the answer to the countries woes – that would have been Old Labour, had they still existed…”

Although I tend to agree with you about the LD’s, I’m loving the prospect of a hung parliament, and a good kick up the backside for the political system as a whole. I definitely don’t share your nostalgia for “old” Labour tho… as bad in it’s way as the nauseating “New Labour” project.

Old Labour were part of the problem, not part of the solution.

@ Galen 10

The latest statistic I saw from the US/Mexico border is that approx 92% of illegal immigrants coming through it are either turned away or caught and returned within 6 months. US immigration is notoriously strict – the UKs is notoriously lax.

“My point about the reliance on immigrant labour (whether illegal or “official”) and on an underclass of poorly paid and protected workers, is that it is not a model most people in the UK would want to emulate.”

Except that is exactly what we have. Of the 2.6m new jobs since 1997, at least 1.6m of them have gone to immigrants (inc EU). most of these jobs are not highly paid and highly skilled. Whilst I have no problem with immigration in general, given my parents are immigrants and I am about to emigrate, the point *I* am trying to make is about the secodnary effects immigration and benefits have incentivised peoples behaviour.

We have had a large growth in immigration, which has put a strain on services. At the same time, the majority of these immigrants have gone into the low paid, low skilled jobs that the long term unemployed would otherwise have taken. It has definately depressed wages for all at the lower end of the scale (which I’m sure businesses are not complaining about). Add in quite generous social security/benefits and high marginal tax rates for the low paid, and often it makes little or no financial sense for the unemployed to return to work.

The law of unintended consequences really does ring true here, I feel.

As for US healthcare. They already spend about 16% of GDP on it, compared to about 9% here. There is socialised healthcare. Many democrats are against the healthcare bill as well – healthcare in general is putting huge strain on many US corporates and their pension funds. Ford and GM are good examples.

US tax rates are similar to what we pay in the UK as well. That’s not an argument.

I agree that many economies around the world are in a bad state. Few are in such a terrible state as the UK though. Brown was overspending to the tune of £30bn a year since 2001, and created a massive strutcural deficit in the explosion of public spending he oversaw. When tax revenues fell, he was dramatically found out and we are only steps away from a soveriegn debt crisis.

I’m not saying Brown was alone in doing what he did, but it makes him no less culpable. Look at the other nations who are undergoing the debt/deficit issues we are just starting on:

Greece
Latvia
Lithuania
Hungary
Iceland
Ireland
(Spain and Portugal?)

All have had massive internal or external devalutions. This means huge pay cuts and job losses in the public sector. Many of them have experienced civil unrest. Pensions have been destroyed, in some the housing markets have crashed (Lat/Lith have had 30-60% devaluations) and long term growth has been heavily damaged in all – and thats jsut to stop their debts increasing, rather than actually reducing them.

Do we really want that in the UK? We should really be in the position of Canada, Australia, South Africa or many other other economies around the world, who have run sustainable fiscal and monetary policies. Instead, “no more boom and bust” Brown has actually helped create one of the biggest swings ever.

Richard @ 14 Re you seriously saying that the Daily Mail is right that young women invite in a foetus just to jump the housing queue?

No of course not.

I thought you were saying that it happened and was acceptable.

Apologies for misunderstanding.

Oh come on: can’t any of you do some basic research?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illegal_immigration#United_Kingdom

Number in UK, about 500-700 K, population about 70M, so about 1%
Number is US, about 12-20M, population about 310M, so about 3.8% or more.

That took me about 2 minutes. Okay, these are estimates, but “The proportion of illegal immigrants per head of population is lower there than here.” Yeah, right…

Re no.16. My guess is that the two main parties are a few percentage points above their core vote (though it would be difficult to define exactly what their core vote is) and they may even be worried about getting their core vote out.

Re: Galen10 @ 20

They were part of the problem in the 70s, sure. Back then the problem was being unable to reallocate our national resources to suit a changing market.

The problem now isn’t a market one, it’s the fact that our ‘main’ parties are both way out to the right wing, inches apart, with the mainstream media pretending those inches are ‘centre ground’. If we turn our head to where the actual centre lies, we see the Lib Dems, and Old Labour would have fit quite nicely to the left of them had they still existed.

Damn shame we lost John Smith when we did.

@26 John Q Publican

There must be a mound forming above his grave on Iona……all that turning when his restless spirit looks down on the “New Labour” project.


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  1. Tom Fox

    RT @libcon: So, er, what is Cameron's message? http://bit.ly/92Ay2C

  2. Liberal Conspiracy

    So, er, what is Cameron's message? http://bit.ly/92Ay2C





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