With the Conservatives kicking off their annual assembly in Manchester this weekend, all but the most ardent of political anoraks are faced with a conference season headliner that - in terms of entertainment and drama - has no chance of outdoing its warm-up act. Labour’s jaunt to the sea answered few pertinent questions about the direction of the Party, and raised a whole lot more. Observers were treated to a Shadow Cabinet who not only openly disagreed with some of their leader’s views, but in some cases outright attacked them. Whilst the hard Left of Labour are still blind to the many faults of their knight in crowdsourced armour, the majority of rational politicos view Corbyn’s speech, and the conference as a whole, as a semi-disastrous exhibition of disunity and incoherence.
The Conservatives, therefore, are in a prime position to twist the knife into the femoral artery of Labour’s (left) leg. To do so will require a disciplined performance from MPs and activists alike. To borrow terminology from Cricket’s bastard cousin, Baseball: the Tories don’t need to hit home runs - a steady diet of singles will suffice. The next week presents an opportunity to solidify their position atop the political hillock of the Centre ground, and with that in mind, here are a handful of key areas that the Tories should focus on.
By now, anyone with a fleeting interest in politics is well aware of Jeremy Corbyn’s terse nature when it comes to handling the press. David Cameron is a polished performer, and there should be no worries about how he shapes up against his opposite number whilst fielding media questions. It is the performance of other Tory MPs - cabinet members and backbenchers alike - that will be worth monitoring. In Brighton there was a clear divide, in terms of media execution, between Corbynite MPs and those who are more reserved about their leader’s qualities. Neither group were overly impressive. The Corbynites - a rendition of ‘The Red Flag’ away from some serious mouth-frothing - came across as overzealous and amateurish, and there was a noticeably threatening inflection to some of their comments. The MPs who are less bullish about their leader’s abilities, by contrast, were awkward and muted, and their interviews made for uncomfortable viewing at times. It’s tough to watch grown men and women muddle through a nonsensical party line that they so evidently disagree with. It should be relatively simple for Conservative MPs to surpass Labour’s weak media efforts: sound confident and polished, talk positively about policies, and avoid any negativity towards the opposition.
Unity and Clarity
The inept media exploits of Labour’s band of Shadow Cabinet misfits points to another key theme for the Conservatives to impress upon the public: unity and clarity. The lack of unity within the ranks of senior Labour MPs was quite staggering. There is already a clear split in the Shadow Cabinet, with those hooked on Corbyn-brand snake oil parroting his defective ideas and sniping at anyone who wishes to pause for a moment and consider just how insane Jeztopia actually sounds. Moreover, there was no real resolution as to what Labour’s policies moving forward will actually look like. Corbyn, for a man peddling a new, honest politics, is seemingly incapable of proffering a straight answer to the simplest of questions (unless it involves pressing the big red button - more on that later). Those brave - or shortsighted - enough to accept positions in his Shadow Cabinet offered little clarity either. After a couple of days, there was a glaring realisation that the new old Labour are making it all up as they go along, and that they expect their supporters, and the electorate as a whole, to give them some slack while they figure it out. If the Conservatives can put forward a united front - no easy feat given the barrage of EU referendum questions they will face - they can emphasise how disorganised and incoherent Labour’s current incarnation is. If they can also be forthright and clear on their future plans, and explain them in terms that the general public can understand, then they will make Labour look like a clueless horde of student protestors.
In the unlikely event that the public bought into the spin and tedious ‘Nasty Tory’ slurs that filled the speeches and fringe events in Brighton (welcome to the new, kinder politics, Ladies and Gentlemen!) then they might be a little taken aback by a message of Conservative liberalism. However, that is exactly the message that the Tories need to push - and push hard. Nary a day goes by without a senior Labour figure popping up to crow about some shiny new membership figure (give them a break - they have little else to brag about right now) but you can be certain that the overwhelming majority of those new members reside well to the Left of political sanity. Labour abandoned Centrist voters by eviscerating their candidates in last month’s elections, and the malodorous extremists who spew bile at anyone showing the slightest symptoms of Blairism are now making the choice to leave the Party an easy one. The Conservatives, in their current guise, are far more socially liberal than their predecessors, and they would do well to remind voters of that. For those Centre-Left voters who, after being inundated with moronic Socialist policy ideas, have been rendered politically homeless, the Tories can offer an attractive option - as long as the message is on point. There must be an emphasis on the work that this government has done in improving the lives of the least fortunate members of our society, along with its recent track record on equality and women’s rights. If that message is delivered effectively, swathes of previous Labour votes could be turning blue, and the Centre ground will emphatically belong to the Tories.
Professionalism and the Economy
This one might seem like a no-brainer, but Labour’s risible lack of professionalism in Brighton is an error that the Conservatives can capitalise on. From Corbyn’s scruffy teacher-cum-Mr Bean outfit, to the indelible image of a glistening Keith Vaz overindulging in some bellydancing, the whole affair had a ragtag, flippant feel to proceedings. Certainly the Labour MPs, bar a few exceptions (Dan Jarvis comes to mind), appeared to be there for a protest rally and a jolly rather than to extol the virtues of their new leadership and press their claims for government. For a party for whom image has been a recent issue, it was a woeful PR misstep. In May, voters basically daubed “WE DON’T TRUST YOU WITH THE ECONOMY” in 10 foot letters on the walls of Labour HQ, yet they persist with their amateurish image. The economy, more than anything, requires a Party to seem serious and professional - something that Labour roundly failed to accomplish. Add to that John McDonnell’s spurious track record, as well as unfortunate soundbites such as Zoe Williams (of The Guardian) claiming that the Bank of England is a “magical money tree,” and the Conservatives should have little trouble convincing the public that they are the only ones who can be trusted with fiscal responsibility.
This should be the piece-de-resistance. Little needs to be said here - Corbyn’s obstinate refusal to climb down from his moral high horse over Trident has been well-documented, as has the litany of Shadow Cabinet members publicly balking at his assertion that he would never, under any circumstances, press the big red button. His astonishing willingness to admit that he would never fire a nuclear weapon renders any internal Labour debate on Trident redundant. A nuclear deterrent is not a deterrent if the world knows with certainty that it will not be used. This startling revelation will have had CCHQ reaching for their calendars to double-check that it wasn’t Christmas Day. There is already a clear Party line that Corbyn, and therefore Labour, pose a grave risk to national security, and now there is indisputable confirmation of that - straight from the horse’s mouth, no less. You can expect to hear a whole slew of Tory MPs drumming home the frightening prospect of Jeremy Corbyn running our national defence, and rightly so.
Manchester may have little in the way of fireworks, although the planned anti-austerity demonstration will certainly offer some feistiness (delegates have already been warned to ensure that their passes aren’t visible when they are out and about). Whilst the conference may lack Labour’s intrigue and spectacle, it will serve a purpose: to win over disaffected Centrist voters, ensuring that Labour are kept to the Hard Left, and therefore out of power, for the next decade.