The Duke of Wellington said: “all the business of war, and indeed all the business of life, is to endeavour to find out what you don’t know from what you do; that’s what I called ‘guessing what was at the other side of the hill’”. This quote came into my mind as I was watching the Tory Party conference. What could we work out from what they had done, and what they were saying, about how they intended to win the next election – and the one after that. Because, as Wellington said, if we know what they’re going to do, it’s a damn sight easier to know how to beat them.
It seems to me that we in the Labour Party have spent almost every minute since the last election talking about why we lost, whose fault it was and what we should do better next time. This is all good stuff and, for what it’s worth, I think that we are gradually brewing up some good ideas which might improve our chances. But, we have spent almost no time thinking about why the Tories won – and let’s be honest with ourselves and admit that they did win – what their tactics are and how not to fall into their traps as easily as we did in May. It seems to me that a few of the more distressing of our recent tactical debacles could have been avoided if we had understood what the Tories were trying to do and had set out not to let them do it.
The Tory Five Point Plan
So, based on what we know and what we have seen over the past five years or so, what is the Tory Game Plan for the next five years (and, if it works again, the five years after that too). I think they have a simple five point plan:
First, get all of your nasty stuff out of the way early. Announce all the cuts you’re going to make in the first six months and bank on the fact that these cuts will have become “business as usual” by2019, and that the voters will have got over their anger about them by the time the next election comes round.
Second, keep talking the “one nation” “tolerant society” stuff. You really can fool most of the people most of the time. If you talk the talk for long enough, quite a lot of people will fail to notice that you’re not walking the walk.
Third, create a legend of incapacity to govern about your political opponents. Plant in the minds of voters as strongly negative a picture of the opposition leader as you possibly can. Nothing is off limits if it will lead people to laugh at or fear the alternative to the Tories
Fourth, make all of your objectives re-interpretable as successes irrespective of actual outcomes. No target is so vague that it is not worth trying to make it vaguer. At the same time ensure that you have set up fall guys (Unions, incompetent public sector managers, Labour Councils) in case you are ever caught out.
Fifth, prepare a set of goodies you can give away to the people most likely to vote. In 2019, declare victory against your (very vague) objectives and start buying votes.
This worked a charm in 2015, and we can see already that the Tories are operating on the basis of “if it ain’t bust, don’t fix it”. Watching the Tories over the past few weeks, I can’t think of a single speech or initiative which doesn’t tick at least one (and often several) of their five tactical boxes.
... and how to beat it
So, if we know (and we do now know) what they’re up to, what should we do about it? We need to deal with each one of the Tory five points with specific and planned counter-punches.
First, we need to identify the worst and least popular of the Tory “first six month nasties” – clearly WTC falls into this category, but I think social care and, perhaps, the green levy fall into this category too – and never let them, or the voters forget them. Jeremy made a good start at PMQs this week with his attack on WTCs, but we must not let this drop. Every month for the next five years, we need to have a PMQ dedicated to Working Tax Credits cuts and the misery they are causing. The misery will still be there, it’s up to us to keep talking about it and keep it on the front pages – George Osborne has supplied the rope – let’s hang him with it!
Second, there is no point in getting all indignant about the “tolerant society” rhetoric. All that will do is make us look intolerant and shouty. Much better, if we can get people laughing at them. The more we can make Cameron look like a posturing fool, the more effective this will be. I want us to be able to laugh with the voters at David Cameron. For heaven’s sake, if there is one single constituency in the country which is nailed on Labour, it is the comedians – get them working for us – writing jokes which are funny and making people laugh at the spectacle of a very wealthy man, leading a very Tory government spouting all this “love thy neighbour” stuff!
Third, don’t give them anything to work with which makes our policies and our leadership appear dangerous or incompetent. There is no rule that says we have to lay out our policies in the first three months for the Tory spin doctors and press to pick apart line by line and expose inconsistencies and errors. Don’t rise to their bait (as we unfortunately did with the imbecilic Osborne Charter) when they try to draw us out. Set up commissions to investigate what our policies should be (ranging from defence, through welfare, to taxation) and give them till 2019 to report. When they ask, tell the Tories that Labour’s policies will be in the 2020 Manifesto; in the meantime, it’s their job to run the country, not ours, and we don’t think they’re doing it very well.
Fourth, every member of our front bench should be given a specific duty to pin down every one of their opposite number’s vague aspirations and force them to tell us what precisely they expect to deliver by when exactly, what specific risks they have identified which would cause their policy to fail and what detailed contingency plans they have in place to address these risks. Parliamentary Question after Parliamentary Question should be placed to extract this information or to force them to withdraw their aspiration. Then masses of FOI requests need to be submitted to get official information to prove they have failed. One PMQ per month should be devoted to exposing “another Tory failure”
Fifth, if we play our cards right and have our policies ready by 2019 (and not before) we can counter Tory “tax bombshell” and “unaffordability” arguments by using the money the Tories plan to spend buying votes to demonstrate that our policies can be delivered and that we can be trusted with the economy. We will, after all, simply be using the money which, in 2019, George Osborne will say is available, to do the things which benefit the whole country – not just Tory voters.
Finally, we have to remember that this is the Tory Gameplan and that everything they do will be designed with this in mind. We have to be ready for them, we have to practice the art of the effective counter-punch, we have to avoid the traps they will lay and we have, above all to remember that, fun though it may be, winning points off opponents in the Labour Party is nowhere near as important as winning votes off the Tories!BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS