Having just got up, and being at home for a couple of days, I switched on News24 to see what was going on in Tory conference land, partly looking for inspiration for today’s blog post. Instead, I’m confronted with the news that Gordon Brown is now in Baghdad, making a statement we were told would come next week, and providing the Conservatives with even more ammo. In their responses to this act of opportunism and upstaging, I watched with some horror as they presented something they have thus far failed to achieve: the kind of opposition politics which can win elections. If Brown were to call an election after this, with the Conservatives now milking it for all its worth, I’d give him maybe a 50/50 change of winning, if that.
Sure, there are reasons why about now is a good time for the statement; parliament is to restart next week, so Brown must be in the country then, and Labour have only just had their conference, during which time a disappearance by Brown would be unthinkable. And obviously, secrecy was required, although the press had already had their heads-up by Sunday according to the shadow defence minister.
But to do this during the Conservative Party conference was just bad. And to do it on the day when the Tories discuss defence policy may be bad luck, they might not have known the order of the debates, sorry, speeches when the diary was fixed. What it has surely done is handed the Conservatives with a perfect line of sight on Mr Brown.
The media have gone to town on this already. Its exactly what the press want to see: a really close election campaign where big sensational statements about the other side are mixed with grand political promises. The promises have been supplied by the Conservatives, but I doubt many people will have been swayed just by hearing about them. A snap election might have worked for back-footing the conservatives in terms of passion and readiness to work the streets, but statements like this are only clearer indications, and better spring-boards.
Supposing, however, that the Election can wait until May. The Conservatives know that Brown will call one within that timescale, I think its pretty much for certain. This will give them months to prepare, and months to begin their campaigning, and this sort of tactical error from the Prime Minister may be all thats needed to get them out there. There won’t be a post-conference slump, there’ll be a rallying cry, and then they’ll go home and start the battle.
There is more and more evidence that the traditionally Conservative press is going back to the Tories, abandoning its 11+ year marriage to New Labour. With the Conservatives now acting pretty much anti-war (they welcome the troop withdrawals, and we even had vague suggestions they should all come home), we see a potential for them to claim so much territory from Labour, and from the Lib Dems, that they could easily string together a majority if they play their cards right, if the press goes with them (its in their interests if they want a good story alone), and if the Prime Minister continues to take his power for granted.
On the part of the Prime Minister, this was stupid. And sadly, the Conservatives seem to be saying enough of the right things, with a line which sounds anti-war enough for most, while maintaining a patriotic undertone big enough for any die-hard Tory to salute, that they could turn around a huge comeback, leaving us with a Conservative government that has made promises that quite probably empty, and which will result in greater, rather than fewer, service cutbacks for the poorest in Britain.
In politics, you have to win every day, or eventually you lose on the crucial day. It might only be lunch-time, but there is probably little that Labour can do to turn this around, and there will be plenty more from the Tories. If Labour think this can frighten the Tories, fat chance. I shall say this with a slight air of resentment, but you have to hand it to them, the Conservatives have done a brilliant job this week, and it now seems, with all the flashiness and all the rallying of troops, that they are in a position where their frontline campaigners might actually believe they can win. Well done Gordon Brown, you might just have given them what they need to show they can win, and to believe they can win; moreover, keep it up, and they will win.
I was politically aware at a young enough age to know exactly how awful a Conservative victory will be for this country; Brown might be implementing her policies much like Blair did, but the Conservatives will be even better at attacking the poor just like they always have been.