Thursday, March 31, 2005

What are people thinking Michael's thinking?

The Conservatives' current predicament seems dire. Howard Flight's comments were dynamite despite the attempts of revisionist sages to claim that it was sacking that made this an issue. It was appalling, because about the only card Howard holds over Blair is trustworthiness, and it is a clever point on which to attack Blair, whose charisma is unassailable, but sincerity is questionable. However, the problem for Michael Howard, now, is that they don't believe, to corrupt his slogan, he'll do what he's thinking they're thinking. Sacking Flight was exactly the right call by Michael Howard- in contrast to his bungling over Boris' bonking -but it will probably not prevent enough of the shrapnel from deflating the patched-up hot air balloon of Tory electoral success.

It was exciting for the media- and probably good for Labour -that it seemed worth hyping up a possible Tory revival and closeness in the election campaign in the past month. Nobody is quite sure if Michael Howard *should* be beating up gypsies, immigrants, abortions and asylum seekers, but they agreed it was working when he saw a few points of joy from the polls. Yet for all the glamour, we must realise that national tracking polls are not great indicators of how the country will vote as a general election approaches.

There is a general didain for Tony Blair at times, but outside of members of the Conservative Party (and, to be fair, members of the Labour Party), Tony's not a man you can hate, in the way that Mrs. Thatcher reached such a status at the start of the last decade. Only those infuriated by Iraq will feel such a way, and there are still many of people- me included -who are angry about the war, but reckon he's a fundamentally decent bloke, even if utterly mistaken on his foreign policy. At least Iraq showed that Tony cared about something- and cared about doing risky and unpopular things -rather than being the smiling, denim-wearing, tea-swilling "y'now"-muttering, focus-group-polling cipher we were beginning to fear.

One wonders exactly what cards the Tories now hold? The 'Are you thinking what we're thinking?" campaign is certainly clever, and vocalises Lynton Crosby's 'dog whistle' tatics. But I suspect it won't work for an organisation still suffering such institutional problems as the Tories are. Their actual election strategy, for its populism and awfulness, is actually quite effective. The problem is that elections are basically a marketing campaign for a product, and no matter how much you tell them "we're thinking what you're thinking", consumers are thinking "I remember them, they're rubbish".