Political journalists have been getting excited this week. Their narrative, after all, has in recent weeks failed to account for a more complicated pre-election period than they had predicted: Tories falling behind in the polls, Gordon Brown regaining confidence. In the rush to fit these (possibly – probably – short-term) creases into a new schema, we’ve heard some surprising things. This morning in the Mail, then, Peter Oborne gets hot under the collar about a snap election; Steve Richards, in the week’s most obvious sign of over-excitement, wrote that the political environment has turned against the Tories. (Matthew Parris, meanwhile, sees it as turning to the right. All is confusion.)
What’s afoot seems simpler: the Tories made a few tactical errors early in 2010, but their strategy remains sound. This week saw a pretty transparent attempt to find a new policy which could capture the public’s imagination in the way the inheritance tax stuff did back in 2007. All this kerfuffle about a £20,000 ‘death tax’ (about which yet another bad poster was published) reaches back to an old Green Paper currently under consultation; it received a deal of negative press back in July of last year. It’s old news. Andrew Lansley, Cameron’s health spokesman, has even been in cross-party talks about the proposals (only one of the options on the table is the ‘death tax’). Needs must, however, when clear blue water is required.
This particular tactic might be cynical, and Cameron may have come across as hectoring at PMQs, but it puts the Tories back on the front foot – and that’s the main thing. The balance of probability still seems to be, as even Polly Toynbee admits, on a Tory government after the next General Election. I agree with her that this may not be for long; but the Labour leadership hopefuls are limbering up for a post-election contest because they still suspect, despite the Tories’ failure to land a killer blow, that Cameron is winning on points.. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that all this under-the-radar fumbling is part of the strategy; I might even suspect that the Tories are scared of their supporters becoming complacent, except that in an interview today William Hague begs them not to be. He also ups the ante, using scare-talk about a Labour victory. As the paper paraphrases him: “Britain will be diminished, its voice silenced, its credibility shredded.”
There’s a new aggressiveness, then, to Tory attacks. If journalists are excited now, this increasingly scrappy – even nasty – campaign will give them a lot more to gurgle about before long. Woo.