Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Don't You Just Love Positive Politics?

It's always easy to tell when a governing party is in serious trouble. Far from concentrating on its own successes in government, it has to point at its leading opponents and scream, in mock horror, "Oooh! Aren't they just horrid?"

That's the latest Labour tactic to deal with David Cameron. Despite the fact that many psephologists believe that the results may not be the good news that the Tories so desperately crave (mainstream thinking here seems to think otherwise, though), Labour are tremendously fearful of exposing the fault lines that are running through their party right now.

To me, that is what makes their Dave the Chameleon advert so wonderful. So many of the accusations they throw at Cameron could so easily be directed towards Blair, particularly if you consider the Tony Blair taking the reins in 1994. He said that he stood for a Third Way, distinct from the doctrinaire socialism of the past, in much the same way that Cameron is launching a rebranding exercise right now. And when he is suggesting that Dave will say what the public wants to hear, to hide his true beliefs, how can we help but think of the former Marxists who ended up as Blair's cronies?

Of course, I think this belies the real fear of Number 10 as things stand. The most vocal critics of Blairism at the moment are the socialist Labour backbenchers. And goodness knows how quickly the Labour party's stock would fall if they ever found themselves in the party ascendency. So, the only way to avoid the party from splitting apart is to go on a good old round of Tory-bashing. (Do I detect the hand of Gordon Brown behind such a campaign?)

Now, I have to say, I'm not the greatest fan of David Cameron. Just about every statement he's made is totally devoid of specifics, but the general commitments he has made suggest that he doesn't understand the scale of reform that needs to be made to our public services for them to become effective. It still rankles with me that almost ten years into Blair's government, there still hasn't been an effective articulation made of the point that more money means more chances to be profligate, and not better service. That said, having seen the Dave the Chameleon advert, I hope he has a resounding success in the council elections. If we are to combat the negative image of politics, then it is vital that positivity and constructive debate is rewarded, rather than which party shouts the loudest and has the coolest computer graphics.

Of course, therein could lie the genius of the advert. As with Blair in 1994, there is deep unease at the direction that he seems to be taking the party (I hope, but am not certain, that it is a short-term ploy designed to change the perception of the Tories) - although he doesn't have a Clause 4 moment waiting in the wings. At the same time, given the smallness of council wards, it is turnout that is all-important in securing seats. And demoralised Labour activists beaten down by Blairism are surely less inclined to pound the streets to prop up their enemy?

So Tory-bashing in the campaign will rally the troops. More subtly, however, the message of the Dave the Chameleon advert is that Cameron is attempting to shift the Tories, in a way that their activists won't like. True blues don't like those in their brightest yellow! So the pressure that is put on Cameron is to get his own side to see the advert, and ask "if he is a Tory, like he says, what bones is he going to throw us?" That may be a more difficult question for Dave to answer than a crass mudslinging cartoon.