Home > Terrible Tories > Ed Miliband at PMQs: from tactics to strategy

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.
Ed Miliband and his team, then, need to be confident in the knowledge that Cameron’s government is institutionally unsuited to the demands of modern government.  They must be confident that the ‘stories’ of policy/implementation howlers, cock-ups and hypocrisies will just keep coming.   Chris (see above) mentioned a few in his piece, and I’d already recorded a dozen or so obvious policy failures or nonsenses within four months of Cameron coming to power. 
These failures really are like London buses. There will always be another one along in a minute.  Ed Miliband team needs to take that as a given, and develop a strategy which weaves every new story into an ever more convincing narrative about Cameron and his top team as simply incapable of responsible government.
I wait with baited breath to see what Ed Miliband goes with next week at PMQs (though, as noted above, the stories need to be told elsewhere too).   I’m not yet a member of Ed’s research team, though after this week’s success I’m waiting for that call, but as a gesture of goodwill here’s one his PMQ preparers might want to work up.
Cameron’s minister (Shapps) responds thus to the Intergenerational Foundation’s quite reasonable call for tax breaks to allow older people to move house and free up family housing:
Whilst this report makes interesting reading, we do not agree that people should be taxed or bullied out of their homes.
In what way, Ed might ask Cameron, do the Dale Farm evictions, or Tory council evictions of mothers of people charged with rioting offences, NOT constitute bullying people out of their homes?
Or, if Ed’s not up for anything quite so controversial as defending Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, he might ask  how Shapp’s statement on NOT bullying people out of their homes matches with  official government policy, announced personally by Cameron, of throwing people out of their homes if they are lucky/unlucky enough get a job, and whether there might just be a subtle difference around what the Tories regard as someone’s home, depending on whether its owner-occupied or rented.
We know, after all, that Cameron already has some previous on not quite getting housing policy detail, even in the place he’s be MP for.
Categories: Terrible Tories
  1. Mike
    October 20, 2011 at 1:51 pm

    If Ed asks questions about Dale Farm at PMQ’s he needs to bear in mind that 3 Labour secretaries of State upheld Basildon Council’s enforcement decisions that led directly to the eviction.

    Attacking contravention of Article 8 of the ECHR is another potential banana skin . Cameron could counter and ask how Ed would square any Labour proposal which enabled travellers to be exempt from enforcement with Article 14 of the ECHR.Would a Labour government afford to travellers such an exemption but not to non-travellers ?

  1. March 21, 2012 at 7:30 pm
  2. May 11, 2012 at 11:04 am
  3. May 13, 2012 at 4:37 pm

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