Monday, 28 May 2018

Message to the Tories - it's the narrative, stoopid!

Labour have only registered a lead over the Conservatives in one of the last 19 polls. Corbyn's support among young people would appear to be waning - even allowing for the unreliability of the polls, Peak Corbyn might very well now only be visible in the nation's rear-view mirror. So why do I still look at the morning headlines through splayed fingers, gut roiling with dread, wondering which pet left-wing topics will be leading the news agenda today? Apart from the royal wedding, the week before last was all about Tory infighting over a seemingly interminable, bogged-down Brexit, Grenfell Tower victims, Oxbridge racism, a Labour promise to abolish the Lords, and - inevitably - NHS underfunding. I'm seriously starting to wonder whether the government has sent its entire media team (apart from James Cleverly, the MP who battles away valiantly on Twitter) on extended leave...

...because everything seems to catch the Tories on the hop, and they simply don't have a clue how to shape a coherent narrative.

Take Brexit, for instance. Over the course of any 12-hour period, you're likely to be faced with a bewildering assortment of headlines along these lines: PM determined to keep Britain in customs union; May says UK definitely leaving customs union; Gove says May mustn't try to stay in customs union; May says even the thought of staying in the customs union makes her vomit; Bank of England chief says Britain will be poorest country in world after leaving customs union; Chancellor says UK must stay in and leave customs union; Rees-Mogg says PM has his full confidence and should resign; Foreign Secretary says May is a traitor whom the whole country should support; Leaked document reveals government has no post-Brexit strategy; David Davis says it's all going really well and very badly; Irish border issue halts Brexit in its tracks and is no big deal, says government etc.

Perhaps I'm just experiencing the inevitable hangover after all the political excitement of 2016, when, following the Brexit vote, David Cameron's act of felo de se, and the defeat of Hillary Clinton, it seemed (for a few dizzy months) as if Hope and Change were about to triumph, and that the old liberal-left progressivist order was about to be swept aside in a mainly right-of-centre popular revolt. What was I thinking? Was I thinking? I should have known better. In 2010, following the defeat of Gordon Brown's Labour Party, Rod Liddle wrote a piece in the Spectator entitled "After all the fuss, will anything actually change?" That enthusiasm-dampening piece made an impression on me, and I referred to it in a post in 2012 - "Rod Liddle was right back in 2010 – new government, same old bollocks" - when the sheer "business as usual" awfulness of the Cameron/Clegg mash-up had become painfully apparent. Well, 2018 is turning out to be the new 2012 - i.e. it's two years since a new  Conservative prime minister marched into No. 10, and, again, seemingly inevitably, it feels as if nothing has really changed, or is likely to.

But, of course, quite a few things have chnged. The economic meltdown that was supposed to follow the Brexit vote hasn't materialised. Popular support for Brexit has actually grown. The EU's myriad problems have worsened. There's a pro-British, anti-EU president in the White House. And yet it doesn't feel like it! Why? Because this government has - disastrously - lost control of the narrative. Why did Britain vote to leave the EU? Because the leading Conservative Party lights of the Brexit campaign - Boris Johnston and Michael Gove - changed the narrative by sounding upbeat and optimistic about leaving the EU, by emphasising the money Britain would save and the potential for a massive expansion in British trade around the globe, and, by countering the relentless, doom-laden, "Here Be Dragons!", feelbad scaremongering of the Remain campaign, they made enough people feel positive about voting for Brexit to win the day!

The same trick was pulled by Mrs Thatcher again and again in the '80s. Yes, the Tory campaigns emphasised the awfulness of life under Labour - it was, after all, a bit of an open goal after the horrors of the '70s. But what allowed Mrs. T to so comprehensively change the political narrative was the basic hopefulness of her message: vote Tory and make Britain a proud, strong, successful, respected country once more! Worked a treat - just as it did for Ronald Reagan in America, where, like Thatcher, the Gipper wrestled the narrative away from the Left. Tony Blair managed it in 1997, as did Barack Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign - but, unlike Thatcher and Reagan, they already had the broadcasters, academia and the entertainment industry in their respective corners.

Dull, cautious, managerialist Mrs May evidently doesn't get any of this, and, even if she did, she possesses neither the personality nor the political instincts to do anything about it. Since taking office, she has in fact done everything in her power to entrench the left-liberal narrative - capitalism is a dangerous beast which needs to be curbed and controlled; achieving equality and diversity are what really matter; Britain is a racist, misogynistic, homophobic country; Brexit is a mistake which she'll try to push through, because that's her job, but she'll do her best to defang it in the process... If the alternative wasn't some dimwitted, traitorous old commie, what possible reason would anyone have for voting for her?

The only potential replacements for Mrs May who have shown a genuine understanding that there is a narrative - and demonstrated a flair for changing it - are Boris Johnston, Ruth Davidson and Michael Gove. None of them is exactly ideal - and Ms Davidson's right-wing credentials strike me as distinctly flimsy - but, hell, I'd take any of them over what we're currently stuck with.


  1. One could also add the death of free speech.
    Brexit:I knew there would be tears.
    How can anyone negotiate a deal they don't believe in.
    Only a politician would attempt it - so easy to throw away other people's money.
    The Mogg is far more business minded.

  2. Hyper Masculine Heteronormative Bigot9 June 2018 at 14:53

    As the late, great Frankie Howard said : "Twitter ye not"