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The Sean Woodward memo: better late than never

A year after Though Cowards Flinch first set out the definitive strategy for attacking Cameron and his “New Conservatism”, it looks like the Labour leadership may finally be inching towards that same strategy. 

Sean Woodward’s secret strategy memo tells the Shadow Cabinet:

[T]he very terrain on which we will fight is changing……..Analysis of Tory party policy, carried out over the summer, convincingly demonstrates the Conservatives are shifting to a distinctly rightwing strategy, in both their chosen focus on issues and their solutions.

This reflects what  we wrote, exactly a year ago, based on just such a “close analysis of the Tory party policy”:

The key attack line to date has been that Cameronism is a return to hard-headed, and economically illiterate, Thatcherism.  While there is certainly mileage in that approach, I think there may be more oppositional mileage in the development of a narrative of the Tories top tier as precisely what they are, totally out of touch with the lives of ordinary people, and increasingly dismissive of the need to be.

 Subsequently, we developed our analysis further, arguing that Cameron’s own political make-up is dominated less by an adherence to Thatcherite thinking than by more traditional upper-class attitudes to government, in which “high” and “low” politics are separated, leading to a leadership style in which trifling matters like welfare, health and education are handed over to the Thatcherite nutters in the party, except on occasions where those nutters’ excesses mean he has to intervene for a while.

So it’s good to see Woodward’s paper edging the party, however slowly, towards this kind of analysis of how best to tackle Cameron; even though the paper (or the sections of it that have been disclosed) still lacks coherence on what actually constitutes Cameron’s rightwing tendencies, there is at least an acknowledgment that Labour would do well to focus on how traditional a Tory he really is, and the extent to which his “compassionate Conservatism” scales are now being shed.

Of course, there will be the inevitable kickback from the unreconstructed Blairites.  Paul ‘The Thinker’ Richards is straight in there, giving the Spectator the fodder they want with his witless twittering:

I spent the 80s yelling ‘rightwing’ at Tories RT @anthonypainter: @chuzzlit @alexsmith1982 he’s refighting the 1992 general election.

Clearly Richards is unable to grasp the nuance that attacking Cameron for his class-based traditional Conservatism might be different from attacking Thatcher for her very non-traditional approach to Conservative government.

In fact, Martin Bright’s (Spectator columnist) own hostile reaction to the Woodward paper is closer to the mark:

Great scoop from The Observer on Labour strategy. Shame about the strategy. Should be attacking Coalition competence not Tory rightwingery.

Bright is right that Coalition competence should be Labour’s main target, but fails to see that Cameron’s own lack of “low politics” competence is actually a direct result of this “[high] Tory rightwingery”.  

Bright fails to see that a main attack point  during the recent riots, for example, should have been that Cameron failed to return from holiday to oversee the riot response until such a time as he felt he need to play the great statesman.  That achieved, he buggered off on holiday again.  The attack should have been around the fact that Cameron’s competence in government extends only as far as the maintenance of his own image as high Tory statesman, and stops short of a capacity actually to govern the country properly.

Similarly, Woodward appears to miss the point, when he accepts that Cameron is (in the Observer’s words) “regarded as a skilful manipulator of his image”.   The point is that what is that Cameron’s image-making strength is also his biggest potential weakness, if Labour can expose the distance between Cameron as statesman and Cameron as the head of a supposedly modern government.

Nevertheless, it does look like Labour’s leaders may finally be headed in the right direction, and a year late in developing this attack line is better than not at all. 

It’s a pity, though, that Sean Woodward doesn’t read Though Cowards Flinch regularly. We’d be a lot further forward if he did.

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  1. August 29, 2011 at 8:52 pm

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