Saturday, October 03, 2009

It won't be the Sun wot won it.

I thought that Gordon's speech this week was pretty good. His opening assault on the Conservatives by listing the successes of the Labour government - our greatest hits - drew an instinctive standing ovation from the delegates in the hall. I think that it was probably in the wrong part of the speech - it should have been closer to the end, leading up to promises to continue to make the right choices, no matter how difficult they are. He majored on 'choice' and 'change' which are the battleground words for the election. Labour have to remind the electorate relentlessly that voting Conservative should be an informed choice, so that voters are aware of the potential costs - hence the segment where he put forward questions that voters should ask the Conservatives.

If you’re a family that’s feeling the pinch – don’t take it from me – just ask them the question. If you care about me, why is your first priority to give a 200 thousand pound tax giveaway to each of the 3,000 wealthiest estates? And if you’re one of the millions of Britons who loves our NHS– don’t take it from me – just ask them the question. If you care about us, why would you scrap the right to see a cancer specialist within two weeks? And if you’re worried about crime – don’t take it from me – just ask them the question. Why would you cut the Home Office budget by the equivalent of 3,500 police officers this year alone and then make it harder for them to catch the most violent criminals using DNA evidence? And if you care about a proud Britain – don’t take it from me – just ask them the question. Why would you put this country’s prosperity and power at risk by placing Britain at the fringe of Europe rather than at its heart?

All fair questions to ask and ones that we should keep challenging the Conservatives over. Change is also an important one, but one that plays to the Tory advantage. They currently have the lead on that simply because they aren't the Labour party and they are, for the first time in over a decade, really putting up a fight.

There was some policy in there, but the key aim of the speech was to lay down some clear dividing lines between the Tories and Labour and this it did. It won't win an election, but it was a solid piece of work from a man who clearly finds the performance required in these set-pieces something of a strain. At heart, he's a serious bloke who puts the job first and doesn't really get into these pieces of political theatre. It did the job of reinvigorating the party faithful who attended, but I don't see it as an election-winner. Any hope of election victory will have to be founded on long term hard graft, but we certainly start as underdogs, to say the least.

The speech was overshadowed by the pre-meditated decision by News International for the Sun to come out for the Tories. Frankly, this can't have been anything of a surprise to anyone - the Sun have hardly been cheerleading for us recently and with pro-Tory pieces like this in the Guardian from Rupert Murdoch's economist-on-earth, Irwin Stelzer, it really isn't a shock. Announcing it on the evening of the speech was clearly calculated to destroy the positive coverage that this speech would otherwise have gathered and that was the effect that it duly provided. That will probably be the high point of the Sun's influence, although I suppose we can expect lots more knocking copy on the front page over the coming weeks, but that's only to be expected.

The reality is that the Sun won't make the political weather - and probably never has - it is just a follower. For every election since 1970, the paper has backed the winning party, but this is more because of a need for the paper to keep in with the government. Now, with circulation down under 3 million, the heyday of the red top print media has ended, although the online reach is still significant. Not only is there a need for the paper to remain relevant to the readership, so that the readers still identify with the paper as a reflection of their own views, there is also a corporate agenda behind this. Jeremy Hunt may proclaim otherwise, but electing a Tory government could be great business for News International and the Sky media arm in particular, as the Tories can be expected to apply pressure on the BBC to pull back from its category-killer role in certain areas of media, especially on-line. The past few weeks has seen a fairly steady stream of releases from the Tory's shadow culture secretary, all firing warning shots across the bows of Aunty Beeb. Wonder why that could be top of his agenda at the moment? And exactly why was the Conservative mayor of London shoe-horned into an appearance on Eastenders, when his Labour predecessor was excluded twice? Actually the most peculiar thing about Boris' visit to Walford was how poor the dialogue was and how uncomfortable he seemed on screen, even playing himself, which is a characterisation he's honed over a good few years. You may well ask why this appearance was scheduled for the conference season at all, when it could have fitted in over the summer?

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