Friday, September 22, 2006

Spin and Substance

"Sincerity: if you can fake it, you've got it made." George Burns

Well, now we know- the Lib Dems are big on substance and actually... They are.

It has been customary to decry them as lightweights and to mock their aspirations of power, but the reality is that they have had a pretty substantive body of policy for many years- as even a fairly cursory look at their policy documents will show you.

So where do we stand now in British politics?

The political pendulum is swinging- and Labour must be feeling ever more nervous about holding on to power after the next general election, whenever that is. The Conservatives, like a very old bloodhound catching the scent, think that they are on the way back into government.

And yet, and yet...

Although David Cameron is trying to change the image of his party- new squiggly tree and all- there is not yet the kind of enthusiasm for him or his party that can guarantee that they can win. The mood music is full of doubts- how can an old Etonian embody the political future? Isn't he just promoting his public school cronies? Is his "green agenda" anything more than PR bullspiel and hype? Isn't this party simply swapping principles for gimmicks?

Many of the most mistrustful of Cameron's agenda are dyed-in-the wool Conservatives. They are angry that he won't address the need for urgent tax cuts. They regard the "policy lite" approach with profound suspicion. They fear that Cameron will abandon the visceral anti-Europeanism which he promised in favour of "Heathite" consensus building and compromise- and on issues where they believe any compromise is a betrayal. If a fanatic is "one who won't change his mind and won't change the subject"- the Europhobes of the Tory right wing certainly qualify.

So, whither British politics?

Unexpectedly this conference season turns out to look like something of a turning point. The Lib Dems avoided the potential pitfalls and are still in the race. Labour face a period of prolonged uncertainty before and even after a new leader is chosen.

The Conservatives? On the face of it David Cameron's first conference will be a coronation. Yet the comments of Edward Leigh and the social conservatives show that he may find it unexpectedly tough going- "Liberal Conservatism" does not seem to convince either Liberals or Conservatives. The Conservative conference will demonstrate whether the Conservatives have rediscovered the loyalty that was their secret weapon in decades past, or whether the corrosion of the past fifteen years continues.

Although the Conservatives are ahead in the polls, they have to be substantially stronger in order to have the faintest chance of winning the next election outright. The media have given Cameron a relatively easy ride- they are interested in him: he is young and relatively personable. The rumours of class A drug taking have seemingly been put to rest. He generates largely positive coverage. However he still has much to do in order to demonstrate substance.

Ming Campbell's focus on substance has a subtext- "Cameron is a lightweight, gimmicky PR merchant". This is a flank that Cameron must shore up- if he can. This conference will show if and how he can address the many lingering doubts about his leadership.


The Labour Humanist said...

Substance not spin....was that the pre-planned statement on the Arctic Monkeys...or the Lib Dem charts in the conference hall on how they're going to win most seats in Scotland???? ;-)

Cicero said...

I beleive that the Arctic Monkeys are a popular beat combo, but having been substantially dead for 2000 years, what would I know - or care?

As to the Scottish elections- shall we wait and see what the result is :-) ?