Sunday, July 13, 2008

One Woe Doth Tread Upon Another's Heels

When Gordon Brown told us all to stop wasting food immediately before flying off to an umpteen-course G8 dinner, those of us interested in such things wondered what on earth his political advisers were thinking of. You can't expect GB, who does as PM have a lot on his plate (groan) to have the time to think about everything "what's this going to look like ?", but where were the people who are paid to spot approaching banana-skins ? They can't be very good.

Now this in the Sunday Times, if true, throws a glaring sidelight on Brown's administration.

A still ambitious cabinet minister was telling me the other day that the slogan “British jobs for British workers” had been a surefire hit with every focus group. Thus market-tested, Brown proudly launched it in his first Labour party conference speech as leader. After he repeated the pledge, Brown’s former liberal friends in the press poured a great big bucket of manure over his head. Many compared the slogan with British National party propaganda. One Labour MP called it a recipe for “employment apartheid”. Another wedge, another loss of liberal support.

A few points here. First, I can easily believe that the slogan was a surefire hit. After all, if you throw most BNP policies at focus groups, without telling them the source, they're pretty popular. (I would have thought that Brown's scheme was actually illegal under British and EU law - anyone fancy advertising a job to British nationals only ?)

But - it was obvious that while it might cheer up some core Labour voters, this would enrage the core Labour activists - the teachers, academics, social workers, housing benefit support officers, anti-racist 5-a-day smoking cessation co-ordinators and other horny-handed sons, daughters and transgendered dependent children of toil. Once again, where were the Alistair Campbell-equivalents and Downing Street policy units ?

If Blair had made a speech like that, he'd have been prepared for the outrage, would actually have played it up and had his responses ready. The row would have been deliberately manufactured to position him as a guy with the voters interests at heart, his own supporters used as props - assuming, that is, that there was political advantage to be gained by so doing. GBs people appeared to have been surprised by the furore. If there was a planned follow-up aimed at positioning True Brit Gordon against the liberal multicultis, it passed me and everyone else straight by.

Point three - the Cabinet ! You have from the evidence to assume that at least one cabinet member was aware of the speech well in advance. I'd have thought others would have been too. Why didn't anyone say anything ? After all, if a good focus group rating is all that's required, I look forward to GBs next speech on the death penalty, the abolition of early release, and stopping mass immigration. The minister/s must have known this wouldn't go down well with the Guardianistas - why did no-one speak up ?

Four possibilities

a) they did and he ignored them
b) they thought it was a bad idea but kept schtum because they couldn't think of anything better
c) they thought it was a good idea as well - which seems to indicate such a distance from reality in an entire cabinet that I can hardly credit it.
d) they didn't even think about it

You have to remember he was still riding high in the polls at the last Labour conference, so I'm assuming no one kept quiet hoping to see him put his foot in it. All the possible options reflect badly on GBs back office - and on his Cabinet.