Opening shots fired in election campaign

Skirmishing has begun in what we’re told is the start of the UK general election campaign. But odds things are happening. Spectator editor Fraser Nelson who might be expected to be a leading Cameron attack dog accuses the Conservative leader of spouting “ vapid nonsense” at his odd little campaign launch yesterday. Fraser’s campaign in favour of grim Tory realism over taxing and spending was boosted by Ken Clarke in the Telegraph, cautiously forecasting a need for tax increases. Cameron will have to sort his message out PDQ when he reveals more of a Tory budget plan later in the week. Strategically, with the Tory poll lead receding slightly, grim realism isn’t the note Cameron wants to strike just now. That’s what Saturday was about – rebalancing the Conservative message with optimism, with less stress on cuts. Clearly, Gordon Brown is setting a trap for Cameron. The Prime Minister looks like taking a terrific gamble on recovery to forestall the worst predictions of austerity in the months leasing up to the poll.. Witness Will Hutton, Keynesian critic of Labour performance in the Observer today, who reaches dizzy heights of optimism about the prospects for UK 2010. Gordon Brown at his own campaign (pre?) launch on the Andrew Marr Show followed the Hutton analysis almost word for word. He really seems prepared to brazen it out without extra tax rises and spending cuts before the election. At the onset of the campaign, the manoeuvres are all about setting a positive tone but the battle lines have yet to harden. And by the way, many of the leading political analysts are still on holiday so it’s still a bit of a phoney war. Will the lines be drawn between grim honesty or honest optimism? Or will the campaign narrow down to a debate about the pace for reducing public debt? We’ll find out in the coming weeks.

  • Yes: that Ken Clarke thing intrigued me as well.

    The result was that Clarke took the lead spot on the BBC web-site for most of yesterday (until displaced by Brown & Obama on Yemen). You had to look hard for Cameron’s tired, cliché-ridden “re-launch”.

    Elsewhere, the Mail site had Cameron down at the #13 spot, and, at a quick scan, it was nowhere on the Torygraph site. Admittedly, as Iain Dale was quick to point out, the Beeb TV news (and Sky, heaven help us) ran it prominently because they had the video.

    I took the message that this was a gentle shafting from the West Bridgford bruiser. Tory HQ can hardly have been chuffed.

  • Have the feeling that both Ken and Boris are used by David to float ideas in order to see what the reaction is and to placate various elements within the party and elsewhere.

  • Moderate Unionist @ 08:49 PM:

    As for example, how will the Great London Commuting Public react tomorrow morning, when faced with the reality of BoJo’s “idea” of upping Oyster fares by 20%? That’s not being publicised at bus-stops and stations.

    Another funny thing: for the first time in living memory there’s no printed guide to the new fares for buses and tubes: staff are expected to memorise them. Kids now need photocards to travel on some lines, but not on others: that should make the school run interesting tomorrow.

    Oh, and BoJo’s cutting services as well: curiously it’s disproportionately affecting inner London proles.

    If the idea is “cock-up”, BoJo’s certainly floating that one.

  • MR,

    as the Tories will probably soon be in government they will be faced with many decisions, such as Boris has just taken, which will financially inconvenience those who have just put them there -it will be interesting.

    To digress, the statement yesterday from John Major was interesting, he was complaining about Blair invading Iraq to facilitate regime change rather than because of the threat of WMD. I thought that the Tories had stated at the time of the invasion that Sadam had to go even if there were no WMD? Is he not therefore also criticising Tory policy of the time?

  • Moderate Unionist @ 09:24 PM:

    While, unlike your good self, I do not presume to anticipate the decisions of some 45 million individual electors at some undefined future moment, you raise a nice point about John Major.

    Obviously there is a bit of subjective re-writing of history here. What came close to causing my infarction was Major wittering on about Saddam being “a bad man”.

    As I said elsewhere,

    A “bad man”? Phew! strong language! Obviously, Saddam should have been sent to sit on the naughty step.

    Niceties of international law apart, and ignoring the gargantuan failure to plan for the aftermath, what is objectionable about dethroning a bloodstained totalitarian dictator, whose penchant for genocide of his own minorities is well-attested? In Major’s utterance one hears the echoes of the Tory appeasers (a majority of the Party for too many years) of the 1930s.

    Now, consider Major’s own record in Iraq. Did he condone the mass-extermination that was Highway 80? Did he approve of the decision to leave Saddam in power, to continue his pogroms and murders?

    Blair was, and remains a controversial figure: that is a measure of his stature. e e cummings got Major bang to rights: an arse on which everything has sat, except a man.

  • Nice site, if seemingly a little short of respondents.

    But, I was not enquiring about the rights or wrongs of getting rid of Sadam but whether Major was implicitly critisising Tory party policy at the time of the Blair led invasion.

  • Moderate Unionist @ 10:00 PM:

    First, “Malcolm Redfellow” has a small, but highly critical circle of readership. Keeping the comments trimmed is as painful as a Brazilian.

    Second: the whole point is that it was not a “Blair led invasion”. The People’s Tone was a mere appendage, “Bush’s poodle”. Chilcot has already shown that the Brits went along with the Bushies in the hope of keeping some kind of leash on the wilder ambitions of Dubya, Cheney et al. The Brits failed: wholly, largely, or partly — that is for history to judge.

    As for the main event, I have not checked the record in full. Duncan Smith, leading for the Tory Opposition, went on record (see Hansard, col 775-6):

    Saddam Hussein is a tyrant who tortures and murders his own people. He poses a threat to the safety and stability of the middle east, and he is in complete breach of his obligations to the United Nations and to the international community. However, the main reason why we will be voting for the motion is that it is in the British national interest … we will be voting tonight to do the right thing by our troops and the British people.

    As Duncan Smith made clear, the “facts” (as determined by Hans Blix for the UN) were that:

    Saddam Hussein has lied to the UN for 12 years. Even now, we do not know the full extent of his arsenal, or of his facilities to develop weapons. He has the means, and as has already been said, it should be evident to everyone that he remains in breach of the obligations under [UN Resolution] 1441. He has absolutely no intention whatsoever of relinquishing the weapons that he has developed: the remaining al-Samoud 2 missiles; the Scud-B warheads; the R-400 bombs; and the tonnes of VX, anthrax, sarin, soman, botulinum toxin, mustard gas and other deadly weapons, viruses and agents…

    Saddam Hussein has not only the means but the mentality. To date, his main victims have been his own people. The tale of his rule of lawlessness is a litany of horror. Dissident women are raped, children are tortured and prisoners are trapped in steel boxes until they confess or die. As we have heard, chemical weapons have been used against the Kurds, and Shi’a villages razed to the ground. As the Prime Minister said, when Saddam Hussein came to power, Iraq was a wealthy country: today, it is impoverished.

    If that was not enough, Saddam Hussein is also the man who has waged war against Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

    For Duncan Smith, the “quiet man”, that was a powerful speech. It reads to me like a plea for regime-change. Why Major is trimming now is another matter, but it doesn’t make him more credible to me.

  • MR,

    An interesting comparison between the pubic and the public.

    I suspect that John may have joined Ken and Boris in saying something that David wants said but which he does not wish to say himself.