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What’s the Coalition’s Message in 50 Words?

Last Updated: Friday, September 17th, 2010

A Liberal Democrat Cabinet Minister has reportedly told Andrew Rawnsley, the Observer’s political columnist, that before too long he expects the Conservatives’ poll ratings to fall to 25 points or so – and his own Party’s to five.  The events of the last few weeks – Cabinet disagreements over Trident, welfare and an immigration cap; Ed Balls’ speech challenging the Government’s deficit reduction strategy; the TUC Conference and, above all, the coming scale of spending reductions  – have combined to create a sense of the Government’s ship at last meeting the wind and waves of the high seas.

Even without a leader, Labour has a clear purpose – to oppose “the cuts”.  What’s the Government’s?  It seems to depend on who’s speaking at the time.  Earlier this week, Nick Clegg emphasised “fairness”, while George Osborne struck a more combative tone in the Commons on the need to rein in welfare spending.  During mid-August, the two governing parties combined to promise a “summer of scrutiny” for Labour, with Chris Huhne, the Climate Change Secretary, and Sayeeda Warsi, the Conservative Party Chairman, hosting a joint press conference. Summer is almost gone, but the scrutiny hasn’t happened.

In short, the Coalition badly needs a message.  The person shouldering a big share of the blame for the failure to craft and repeat one is Ed Llewellyn, David Cameron’s Chief of Staff.  It would be unfair to hold one person solely responsible.  After all, it’s more difficult for two parties than one to get behind a single message.  Furthermore, the Conservatives have a collective tendency to believe, even after three election defeats and a failure to win fourth time round, that effective government means prizing administration above politics.

A powerful indication of this way of thinking was the culling of special adviser places.  Special Advisers are the political eyes and ears of Ministers, and their scaling-back is an over-reaction to the era of Campbell, McBride and Labour spin.  However, as Chief of Staff Llewellyn is responsible for welding the operation together.  Tim Montgomerie advised earlier this week on ConservativeHome that Downing Street needs a more powerful Chief of Staff, better external liaison and links with journalists, and a wordsmith speechwriter.  Number 10 apparently recognises that there is a communications problem.  Conservative Home ran last week a series of possible 50 word messages that the Coalition might agree upon.  It needs to follow suit.

Paul Goodman



 As Labour steps up its attack on the Coalition, the Government’s in danger of disarming unilaterally: On August 11, Chris Huhne and Sayeeda Warsi held a joint press conference attacking Labour.  Both used the slogan: “One party made this mess. And our two parties will sort it out.”… Almost exactly a month has passed.  Summer has continued.  The scrutiny has not.  In the meantime, the Labour and media assault on the Government over Coulson and “cuts” is inventive and relentless.  But there’s been no effective counter-attack.  The Coalition needs a simple message.” More:

A look-ahead to next year’s local elections: “How will we get on? We should be prepared to face some losses, shouldn’t we? We are starting from a high base…36 metropolitan boroughs have a third of seats up for election. All the seats are up for election in 30 unitary authorities (including directly elected mayors in Bedford and Middlesbrough).  In19 unitary authorities, a third of the seats are up for election.  124 district councils have all of their seats up for election (including the directly elected Mayor of Mansfield).  A third of the seats are up for election in 70 district councils.  There are also full elections in 26 district councils in Northern Ireland.” More:

The four weaknesses in David Cameron’s office:  “In addition to a Chief of Staff figure there is almost unanimity in Westminster that Cameron also needs (1) a top aide who will regularly meet commentators and explain the Coalition’s narrative; (2) a wordsmith who can bring this narrative alive and (3) an External Relations capacity that will build deeper relations with the conservative movement, including think tanks and opinion-formers. Throughout this week, beginning tomorrow, ConHome will be publishing fifty word drafts of what “Dave’s real story” might look like.” More:

The Coalition should prepare for extreme unpopularity and govern as if it only has one term: “Five treatments matter most of all. Deep spending cuts. Simplification of the tax system. Welfare reform. Dismantling the educational establishment. Transparency in government so waste and incompetence is never hidden again. If these things are done the Coalition has a case to make at the next election but if, as I would say is more than likely, the Tories and LibDems are thrown out, they would have, at least, have delivered the change that Britain needs” More

The Coalition’s main policy is right – and it’s time to get behind it: The Government’s main purpose is to pay off Labour’s deficit – thereby helping to create the conditions for growth, jobs and prosperity. It’s trying to carry out this aim in the face of Labour hostility and public scepticism. But it can’t be said often enough that this objective is right and the alternatives disastrous.  David Cameron will have the chance to make the point …again and again during the months to come.  As he does so, his Party should get behind him.  His venture’s as right and necessary as Margaret Thatcher’s was some 30 years ago.” More:

Eurosceptics ridicule Coalition’s referendum lock:  “The Coalition announces its referendum lock today but it has been attacked as meaningless by Bill Cash MP, Roger Helmer MEP and now, most convincingly, by Douglas Carswell MP on his blog as follows: “This ‘lock’ is worthless – and Ministers must know it.  Under the Lisbon Treaty (no referendum), the EU doesn’t need any more treaties to give itself more powers.  That, Mr Hague and Mr Lidington, was kind of the point in offering this referendum in the first place.  Incidentally, we’ve hardly stopped giving the EU more powers since May, have we?” More:

The Papal visit presents the Government with hard choices: “The episode is a reminder that the Pope’s visit isn’t an easy publicity hit for Team Cameron.  We read that he’s likely to criticise the Equality legislation and ask, in effect, what comes first – the rights of faith communities to live their faith or the rights of people to live their sexuality? Such questions raise a further one: where does the Government stand on the Equality laws that it inherited?  This Papal visit is going to be interesting.” More:

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