Not that Russell is the only person we respond to on Platform 10, but he made an interesting comment on the need to define our opponent. He said that Labour were exceptionally good at defining their opponents, that their ‘critics were defined as dinosaurs’ and that we haven’t yet managed to do that.
First a tiny bit of potted history. In the 1997 election, we tried a two-pronged attack against Tony Blair – Demon Eyes, the old Socialist in modern clothes, and Bambi, the fluffy pleasant face of a party that hadn’t changed.
I think both those charges had a ring of truth, but because they were at cross-purposes (and for a number of other reasons, including the failures of the Tories in government) neither succeeded particularly well.
In 2005, Labour’s general election campaign was basically ‘Vote Labour so the Tories don’t win’. Leaving aside the misery of the fact that after 8 years in government they didn’t feel they had anything positive about their record to trumpet, it worked.
And one of the reasons that it worked was that people still didn’t trust Conservatives to be in government (again for a number of reasons, not least that we didn’t have an overarching vision for the country. I mean, 10 words plus one is fine as it goes – but it wasn’t exactly an aspirational message, was it?).
So in 2007 with ‘continuity and change’, as so many Labour ministers chirp at us this month, we need to define and attack Labour AND present an alternative positive vision.
While this is a bit of a return to navel-gazing, the first thing we need to do, though, is define ourselves. If we can’t agree on what we stand for, how can voters understand it?
So that’s what David Cameron has been doing. It’s somewhat undermined by the fact that every time voters begin to think ‘hmm, yes I like/trust/admire him, what’s his party about then’, that some dinosaur pops up moaning about something. I hate to return to this point, but we need to understand that the party needs to take the modernising journey too. Imagine if you saw David on tv or whatever, thought yes I like him, and then had some Bufton Tufton turn up on your doorstep with a message that was completely at odds with what you’d heard from David. Not great, is it?