'On Monday Lord Ashcroft will publish his verdict on the party's failure to win an overall majority in the May general election. In his analysis, the Tory life peer criticises the party for:
Failing to get its "message" and "brand" across to the voters.
Relentless counterproductive attacks on the Labour Party and Gordon Brown.
Agreeing to a televised debate of political leaders which enabled the Liberal Democrats to seize the "real change" initiative.'
While of course Lord Ashcrofts points are relayed to us via a journalist, and therefore may have been morfed to their disadvantage, these are hardly razor sharp observations. Having watched Karl Rove dissecting things the other day with acerbic wit and brevity, this seems very dull fare.
I am not really a politics nerd. But I probably pay more attention to politics than average, and here is my take on the Ashcroft critique.
Once David Cameron threw out all the discernably conservative positions on things, there was virtually no Conservative brand in existence. First and foremost, the small easy-to-pay for state. Ditching this alone probably cost the Conservative party its crucial majority. Almost from the beginning, Cameron kept on about how much he loved the Government bureacracies, especially the NHS. But also the Post Office. Not forgetting the BBC. And definitely the education industry. Etc etc.
Cameron signed up to virtually the whole Green agenda too. He also kept on about how great immigrants are, and how very much they've done for the country. He said we should empathise with hoodie-wearers, and presumably all the people on those sink estates who don't wear them too. He was critical of the intervention in Iraq, and gave succour to the anti-war crowd. He applauded the government apparatchiks and criticised greedy businessmen.
It was probably about this time that most conservatives realised that the Conservative party wasn't conservative any more. That it was now essentially just another centre-left party touting all the tired claptrap that the centre-left have been spouting for eighty-ish years.
So what Brand is Ashcroft talking about? That crappy stylised Oak tree which is now the 'symbol' of the Conservative Party? If he can give a coherent answer to my question, he ought to because there are thousands of ex-Conservative voters out there who don't think the Conservative brand exists.
If the Conservatives had a 'message' during the last election I missed it. I thought the message was that Gordon Brown and his scabrous allies had spent countless billions during the good times, and got precious little for them, while telling us that the good times would never end (no more boom and bust?); and then when the good times ended insisted that no blame accrued to them and they couldn't possibly have known it was going to happen. So, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has NO role in overseeing the City of London financial sector? None at all?
Which brings us to Lord Ashcrofts second point. Where was I during the 'Relentless counterproductive attacks on the Labour Party and Gordon Brown'? I must have been down the shops or in the pub, because I heard virtually no criticism of the godawful job Labour had been doing. And I'm pretty sure I know why. Cameron intended to carry on doing mostly the same things Labour were doing, and he didn't want too much cognitive dissonance about that.
We faithfully watched the debates waiting for David Cameron to launch some broadsides against the inviting flanks that Labour could not protect, due to their hideous mismanagement of the country... and they never came. No statistics were proffered about the stupendous size of the public sector (1 in 5 employees in Britain works for the state), and the truly enormous size of the annual budgets. Nothing about the budget deficits, which were and are taking Britain into a morass of debt. Nothing about the vast sums of money which went into virtually unimproved public services, or spent on plush salaries and pensions for public sector workers- much better salaries and pensions than the ones of the people funding the whole sorry mess.
If it had been a boxing match, Cameron wouldn't have troubled the scorers. His aim seemed to be to show the public that he was nice, and that the Conservative party was nice, and that when he was Prime Minister, things would continue to be nice.
Surprisingly, the general public found this milquetoast pap unappealing, perhaps even nauseating. I know I did. Far from providing red meat, Cameron seemed to want to take us all back to infancy, and soothe us with baby-talk.
I could sum up my impressions of the three contestants on the 'I want to be Prime Minister' Quiz show very quickly. Nick Clegg came across as a very hard-sell used car salesman, who had lots of zippy catch phrases and fresh air for policies. His 'a plague on both your houses' posturing got old after about five minutes, and I thought his bluster demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt the terrible weakness at the heart of the LibDem project. Gordon Brown alternated between vaudeville villain (I kept on imagining him with a black eye-patch) and slimy ageing bon viveur. His on-screen fight with his inner grumpy bastard was deeply reminiscent of the ex-Nazi scientist in 'Dr Strangelove'. How we laughed!
And I think there was some other guy there, but I'm not sure. He was as memorable as a department store mannequin, but not quite as human. I can't remember a single distinctive policy he was touting, nor a decent line, nor any wit nor emotion. Insofar as it is usual for politicians to be animated by ideas, he was completely inanimate.
If I were to sum up my view of the Conservative campaign, it is: the Conservatives believed in nothing apart from the sheer inevitability of people being sick of Labour, and taking whatever the other guys were proffering. They couldn't be bothered to find out what people actually wanted from them, and settled for offering sweet nothings, reassuring noises and very non-Conservative positions on pretty much all the important issues in British public life. They tried to be as bland and inoffensive as possible, present a facade of competence and capability, and duck all substantive questions.
I was completely confirmed in this take on the campaign when I watched a program the other day about how the coalition was formed. The LibDems found the Conservative negotiating team strangely amenable. Weirdly amenable. Almost as if they had no real red lines at all. It all got a bit jokey and informal.
Why it had taken the LibDems soooooooooo long to realise that there wasn't a fag paper between their own 'beliefs' and those of David Cameron and his little cabal is a mystery, but then they aren't all that bright.
The fact is, there is now an opening in British politics for a mainstream right-wing party. Anybody fancy starting it?