Wednesday, May 30, 2007

What is Osborne up to?

Tony Blair has suffered from disastrously low polls for years now. He is personally associated with a criminal investigation and, above all, carries the millstone of the war in Iraq. He is also gone, history. So why then is George Osborne making a speech that seems to locate the Conservative Party as Blair's spiritual heirs, while making a clear dividing line between post- Blair Labour?
The answer, or so at least it seems to me, is that the Conservatives think they have identified the reasons for Blair’s early popularity and his later unpopularity. From the very first ‘tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime’ soundbite, Blair has consistently smoothed the feathers of the middle class. Everything he says is plausible and ostensibly catered for the concerns of Middle England. And yet, the follow up is either lacklustre or lacking altogether, while other concrete decisions by the Government, from the consistently sizeable and stealthy tax increases to the symbolic assault on the countryside (through foxhunting and the foot and mouth debacle) have seemed designed to injure or annoy those same people.
What the Conservatives are trying to do is associate themselves in the mind of the middle classes with the rhetoric of Tony Blair, while simultaneously laying the blame for the visible failings of delivery on his party in general and on Gordon Brown in particular. This allows them to pursue a line of attack that will irritate Gordon Brown almost beyond reason: that [insert crisis/scandal] would never have happened on Blair’s watch. It also attempts to refocus the view through the rose-tinted glasses - in the same way that Blair has wrapped himself in the flag of, variously, Gladstone, Churchill and Thatcher.
It has the air of a strategy being put in place with an eye to the longer term. In the immediate it might be marginally counter-productive, especially if Blair strongly disavows Cameron and explicitly supports Brown. As his era recedes, however, the temptation for Blair to emulate Thatcher rather than Major and make gentle noises of disapproval if Brown does tack to the left may make the Tories’ line both more plausible and more damaging to Labour unity.

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