I said this yesterday and I’m going to keep saying it: you know it’s a slow news weekend when ‘Damian McBride doesn’t like Tories, and Paul Staines doesn’t like Derek Draper‘ is on the front page of BBC News.
Just in case you’ve not been following this one (hi Mom), here’s the short version. In January, Damian McBride sent some emails to Derek Draper plotting to start a new website solely for revealing embarrassing secrets about Tories. Derek Draper’s the editor of LabourList. Damian McBride used to be Gordon Brown’s political press officer but was moved to a more background job in Downing Street back in September. The emails were sent from his Number 10 email address.
Draper and McBride gave up on the idea of the gossip site. But somehow (and Staines is refusing to discuss how) the emails found their way into the hands of Paul Staines, better known as Guido Fawkes, who gets on with Dolly Draper about as well as I get on with…that guy I don’t get on with very well. Since Dolly doesn’t have anything he can resign from (calls for a LabourList coup aside), Staines called for McBride’s resignation, and yesterday he got it.
Staines then handed the smeary emails to the News of the World, who found these baseless allegations about the private lives of senior Tories so distasteful that they had no choice but to print them in full. Sorry – almost in full. They didn’t print the name of the ’embarrassing illness’ David Cameron is supposed to have.
Frankly, the whole sequence of juvenile events – plotting a new website for smearing Tories, discussing malicious gossip about Tories, and then realising that it’s a stupid idea – sounds rather like the sort of thing my friends and I (who, at this stage in our careers, don’t work in Downing Street, and don’t, let’s be honest, have that much to do with our Easter weekends) might get up to. I even used to know someone at university who kept a ‘dossier’ of potentially embarrassing things the campus Tories said on their messageboard (remember messageboards?), presumably for use in case one of them ever became an MP. Now, that’s foresight.
But would we expect it to fly, as a serious political strategy? Of course we bloody wouldn’t. Prying into people’s personal lives like this is offensive; and I think it says something about Some Men In Politics that they picked on Nadine Dorries, in particular, when there must be dozens of male backbenchers having alleged affairs. (Although does anyone else find it odd that in Dorries’ statement she chose to compare herself to the Prime Minister’s wife? You know, rather than to a politician?)
However, it’s not just offensive: it’s ineffective. I can see why McBride and Draper were tempted, because it’s pretty tiring watching the press and the opposition moralise about our politicians’ every flaw when we know they’re no better (and yes, before anyone points it out, I know we did exactly the same when we were in opposition, John Prescott, yadda yadda), and it would be fun to point the finger back at them.
The problem is, outside the hackosphere, nobody cares. Voters don’t really give one about whether George Osborne used to wear girls’ pants or if David Cameron has gonorrhea (I don’t have any, ah, inside information on this Embarrassing Illness, you understand, I just wanted to show off that I can spell gonorrhea). I’d like to think they don’t really care about the state of Jacqui Smith’s marriage either.
Chris Grayling had it about a quarter right when he said Downing Street should be concentrating its efforts on helping people through the downturn rather than coming up with ways to damage the Tories. He was mostly wrong, of course, firstly because the government is devoting its time to helping people through the downturn, and to bringing it to an end. And secondly because we do need to keep people from voting Tory, because if the Tories get their hands on the wheel during the recession we’re all fucked.
Alastair Campbell got it spot on this morning when he said we need to be attacking the Tories on policy, not just because it’s the Queensberry Rules thing to do but because that’s where they’re weakest.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, back to LabourList, where Laurie Penny blogged on Friday about what Labour needs to do to ensure post-recession politics aren’t just ‘business as usual’. ‘Labour,’ she says, ‘has to offer something more than ‘not the Tories’. ‘Not the Tories’ is a terrible slogan. Girls Aloud are not the Tories. The Real IRA are not the Tories. The BNP, for that matter, are not the Tories.’
Which is very well-put, but whatever the tyrannical ambitions of Nick Griffin and Cheryl Cole, none of those are in danger of being the next party of government, whereas the Tories are. And I do mean ‘danger’. The Tories have no ideas on how to deal with the recession beyond cuts, cuts and more cuts.
But is that so bad, asks Penny: ‘I’m twenty-two years old. Hopefully, I’ve got a great deal of my life left to live. I’m concerned for what’s going to happen to the politics of this country way beyond 2010. If absolutely pressed I’d still probably prefer this Labour party to be in power at the next election over the current Tories, but actually, given the nature of the draconian welfare laws the party has currently passed and given the very real consequences of stagnation after four, let alone three, terms, that’s only a marginal preference right now.’
Penny’s not the first who seems to think that the opinions, experiences and votes of those in their early twenties should count more than anyone else’s – in fact I’ve dubbed this Sanchez syndrome. It gets on my nerves, but not as much as the old ‘Labour, Tories, what’s the difference, eh?’ routine. It’s like my old housemate from university who said she honestly couldn’t see a difference between Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher. The only possible response is ‘have you ever lived on benefits? Did you live on them in the 90s? Do you remember it?’
If you want to criticise the government on Iraq, or 42 days, or Trident renewal, I’ll come with you. But don’t start with this ‘draconian welfare laws’ nonsense. Like the bloke behind me on the coach to the G20 demo, who was denouncing James Purnell as ‘that fascist who’s demolishing the welfare state’ and turned out later in the conversation not to have heard of housing benefit. Or the protester holding a placard which said ‘The government gives £650k to every unemployed banker and £0.00 to single mothers’. I know it’s not good demo etiquette to go up to someone and say “Excuse me, but I can’t help noticing your placard is completely factually inaccurate”, but really. Sometimes it helps to know what you’re talking about.
So let me, once again, bring out my Single Mother correspondent, who is, as you will all remember, also my single mother. Mom recently became unemployed and had to go onto income support – briefly, as it turns out, because she has got a new job with Jobcentreplus. (It’s a growth industry.)
Now, being firmly of the belief that you should have enough energy to read your kids a story at the end of the day, Mom was quite concerned about the impact of supporting single parents back into work, as she will be doing in her new job; so she gave some thought to how a requirement actively to seek a minimum of 16 hours a week would have impacted on her when she had more children at home.
Four hours of work a day leaves you plenty of time to take the kids to school and pick them up again; it’s a reasonable income if you include tax credits (mostly, although I certainly wouldn’t argue with anyone saying that the minimum wage needs a substantial hike); it gets you out of the house, which is important to most people’s sanity; and, perhaps most importantly as we look to the future, it means more children get to grow up in households where going out to work is a way of life. Good enough for my Mom.
You might think I’ve drifted from my point, so let me recap: this is what we need to be talking about. We need to stop people getting away with talking about ‘Labour’s draconian welfare laws’. We need to carry on attacking the Tories, but on policy, not on pants. In fact – and I suspect I’m going to regret this metaphor, but hey, I moderate this blog – we need to hit them where it really hurts. Because planning to lose the next election so we can do better after then, as Laurie Penny seems to be suggesting, means at best four years of the Tories – and for those hardest hit by the recession, that’s four years too many.
PS – I’d love to point out another example of the insanity of the blogosphere, and the tangled web of lies that Tories can get themselves into. But I said I’d never link to Donal Blaney from this site 😉