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Does demonising the Tories work any more?

May 28th, 2006

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    The week when Labour stopped being General Election favourite

A hugely significant betting moment during the week when, almost certainly for the first time since 1992, the Tories became favourite to win the following General Election. The Betfair “Labour winning most sears” price is 1.02/1 compared with 0.98/1 for the Toires.

What’s interesting is that this change has taken such a long time coming. Throughout the past few months of cash for peerages, Tessa Jowell, and the foreign prisoners affair punters have stayed with Labour even though the polls were not encouraging.

Even that Populus 8% Tory lead three weeks with its associated 10% margin if Gordon Brown was leader did not push Labour behind the Tories in the most seats’ markets. The final straw during the week the influential ICM poll in the Guardian and the May YouGov survey in the Telegraph.

    What I think’s happening is that the Labour strategy for the past decade and a half of demonising the Tories no longer resonates. Blair-Brown’s central campaign rhetoric brilliantly executed over three General Elections won’t carry over to a fourth.

What can Labour say to get the voters to like them again when just “not being the Tories” is no longer enough?

The main hope for the party is that the departure of Blair will allow Labour to reinvigorate itself and create a different “offer” to put to the country. The problem is that after fifteen years of of saying “we are the only way to stop the Tories” there appears to have been precious little thinking on what replaces that. The recent “Dave the “Chameleon” campaign showed that they have yet to come up with new ideas.

    A possible Tory weakness for Labour to exploit might be that David Cameron will continue to be sloppy with his public outbursts

The Tory leader is supposed to be a PR expert and should know that you don’t start making public statements without checking out all the angles and facts. Thus the onslaught against the retail group BHS on sexy children’s clothing looked ridiculous when it was revealed that the company had stopped selling the range three years earlier.

Tory and Labour strategists should listen to the first ten minutes of the latest edition of Radio 4’s “The Now Show” describing how a web-site the Tory leader recommended was found to be packed with porn. It makes amusing listening – but there’s a serious point. An opposition leader should not have allowed that to happen and he’s diminishing himself. One day, when Labour are not in self-destruct mode, this could be highly damaging.

We are possibly four years away from the next General Election, a lot can happen between now and then, and a “John Major” type Labour leadership could allow a departure from the past. It’s going to be a big challenge.

Mike Smithson

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