Ed Miliband at PMQs: from tactics to strategy
Back in June, last time Ed Miliband has a really effective PMQs, I said:
This ‘flow of stories’ is what Ed was doing today, and it’s what he and his frontbench team should be keeping at day in, day out……
There are countless implementation cock-ups and unthought through consequences for his researchers to choose from now, all of which reflect the simple fact that Cameron doesn’t give a monkey’s about what happens in the real world.
Back in June the implementation cock-up chosen was the effect of ‘welfare reforms’ on people suffering from cancer.
This week, it was the fact that the Regional Growth Fund has only funded two business in the 16 months since it was announced, a story which regular readers will know started with my and Sunny Hundal’s Freedom of Information request (a fact acknowledged by the Guardian).
It’s interesting to note how the Tory commentariat acknowledge the effectiveness of yesterday’s hit.
James Forsyth at the Spectator says:
The Labour leader had one of those great PMQs facts: despite the government having issued 22 press releases about the regional growth fund in the last 16 months only two firms have received any money for it.
Daniel Knowles at the Telegraph reports:
The Labour leader must have a good research team hidden away somewhere [yes, me], because then he followed up with what’s becoming a habit: picking a government policy that isn’t working, this time the regional growth fund: “They’ve certainly issued a lot of press releases – 22 – but how many businesses have been helped? Two. Two in sixteen months”. Miliband had no plan of his own (as Dave was happy to point out), but he won this one too;
Even Andrew Rosindell at Conservative Home is forced into a snide acknowledgment, while not understanding what this new ‘pick a policy ‘ tactic may be:
Miliband is new to the [PMQs] game and settled today on two groups of three. This was partly because his researchers had dug up a helpful claim (at least for him): that the regional growth fund has issued 22 press releases but helped only two businesses.
So far, so good, then.
My fear, though, is that the use of ‘stories’ like this, in which the basic competence of the government is consistently questioned, and its word-deed disjuncture highlighted, has not yet been embedded as THE key strategy in opposition. My suspicion is that, at this stage, such stories are seen by Miliband and his team simply as helpful add-ons, for particular use at PMQs (only noticed by the political elite anyway).
This failure to recognise the power of this line of attack is in turn, I contend, rooted in a continuing failure to understand what really makes Cameron and his chosen few tick.
What makes Cameron and his chums tick, as I have set out in depth here, is not so much their rightwing ideological assumptions, but an operational code of government – quite different to that under Thatcherism and Blair - where matters of detailed policy formation and implementation are simply not considered important.
Amongst the more sensible leftwing commentariat there is at least some recognition of this operational code as an important strcutural feature of Cameronism.
Chris Dillow, for example, has reached similar conclusions to me about the way in which the Tory elite goes about its business (or, more accurately, doesn’t bother):
[C]onsidering the Tories are supposed to be the “natural party of government”, they seem remarkably bad at governing…… Could it be that its incompetence arises precisely because it believes it is the natural party of government? Cameron and his colleagues think they are entitled to rule, and this causes them to under-rate the importance of working hard and following procedures……
And even Kevin Maguire is moving towards the same position, pithily as ever:
Cameron acts as if he was born to rule. But Fox’s resignation and Letwin’s lunacy can be added to the list proving he can’t.
Whilst this report makes interesting reading, we do not agree that people should be taxed or bullied out of their homes.