BY JONATHAN FOREMAN
If the Tories don’t win a solid majority in today’s election they have only themselves to blame. Given the unpopularity of Gordon Brown and the state of the economy, a resounding victory should have been easy. And it probably would have been if David Cameron had not been so in thrall to his marketing gurus.
Perhaps one of the British newspapers will one day do a Theodore White style investigation and find out who exactly in the Tory party (and in the Labour party for that matter) believed it was a clever idea to agree to a Presidential style debate, and who decided it would be OK for such a debate to include the Liberal Democrats.
Whatever happens over the course of today’s polls it is clear that it was an arrogant blunder of colossal proportions to agree to the debates which enabled the Liberal Democrats to become a political powerhouse.
Now Nick Clegg’s crank-filled, anti-American, multiculturalist, weirdly pro-Islamist third party that is considerably to the left of New Labour could find itself in a position to force massive constitutional changes to the permanent detriment of the Tories and the country.
It should surely have occurred to someone at Conservative HQ that the party’s strategy of emphasizing Cameron’s personality and in particular his youth, newness, niceness and relative good looks — rather than policy and ideology– might be undermined by the presence and prominence of another leader who was at least as young and personable and even newer and less vulnerable to the anti-political sentiment stoked by the expenses scandal.
And it should surely have occurred to someone at CCHQ that the BBC – so doggedly cultivated by the Cameronites, even when that meant ditching Conservative beliefs as well as style, and which was disillusioned with New Labour for all the wrong reasons — would lovingly embrace the Lib Dems once they became a significant force.
That the Tory leadership was so deluded about the debates was symptomatic of a deeper problem: the capture of the party’s soul by advertising men and their culture. It probably would not occur to many of the people around Cameron that in an era of growing cynicism, the endless, obsessive “rebranding” of the party might actually be a turn-off for much of the electorate as well as for traditional Tory voters. Nor would it occur to them that many voters might actually prefer a conviction candidate with whom they disagree on some issues, to just another politician whose views are obviously shaped by pollsters and public relations experts, and whose deepest belief sometimes seems to be that he was born to be Prime Minister.
That the party leadership had absorbed the marketing men’s contempt for voters was all too obvious in the Conservatives’ wretchedly patronizing and naff advertising campaigns. (See eg. “I’ve never voted Tory before but…”) That Cameron and co. had little apparent understanding of the needs of ordinary people – and were obsessively concerned with the good opinion of small but influential metropolitan elites – was reflected in their inability or unwillingness to engage boldly with issues like law and order and immigration that could have won them many votes in the Labour heartland.
It is possible that the Tories, having squandered their lead in the polls earlier this year may still win a working majority. But if they do, credit is due less to their own efforts than to the failures of their opponents and the desperation of the voting public.
(A version of this post appeared on the US FrumForum website yesterday)