It’s all about the image as Conservatives get serious
Latest Tory broadcast aims to portray stability and serious leadership
British prime minister David Cameron: the aim of the latest political broadcast is to portray serious leadership. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
Six years ago, a Labour aide planned an election broadcast , where everyone in it would sing the British patriotic song, I Vow To Thee My Country .
It was to have begun with a milkman making dawn deliveries, moving on to parents getting their kids ready for school. By nightfall, nurses would help patients in darkened wards.
“We cut to an old building with all the lights off apart from one window. We move at worm’s-eye level through a familiar black door, then up carpeted stairs, down a long corridor with deep red carpets, one room lit up at the end,” mused the aide, Damian McBride.
Then, with “the faint humming” of the closing bars of I Vow to Thee growing louder, the camera would go to the lighted room where Gordon Brown would be still at his desk in the early hours, his red box in front of him, signing documents, humming to himself. He finishes the last bar, looks up, smiles and says, “Good night”.
Captions come up in turn: “He’s working”, “You’re working”, “Britain’s working” , “Don’t let the Tories ruin it”.
McBride’s career ended in disgrace after it emerged that he had been ready to fabricate allegations to blacken the reputations of Conservative MPs, but on a good day – when he was not being poisonous – he was , very able.
In its latest political party broadcast, the Conservatives have offered, perhaps, a nod to McBride. Flashy images have gone. Instead, David Cameron is filmed against a backdrop of sombre tones, dressed in a dark suit and a dark plum-coloured tie.
“Some people want to abandon the course we are on; they are offering easy answers,” he says, before asking voters if they believed that he would not take an easier course if one existed.
Everything about the broad - cast is crafted to portray solidity, stability and serious leadership – exactly as Brown would have been made to look if he had not abandoned plans in 2007 to call a quick election.
Back then, the UK was in the opening chapter of the global economic crisis. Today, it is wearying of the road, particularly now with charges that three years of Conservative-led austerity have not made things better. In fact, critics argue, they have made things worse.
Conservatives and Liberal Democrats insist endlessly that they have cut the national deficit by a quarter since they came to power in May 2010. Indeed they have, but the deficit and the UK’s national debt are two different things.
This fact still eludes most voters, according to a survey, which shows that most voters believe the coalition is cutting the debt. It is not. In fact, the UK’s national debt will have risen by £600 billion in the five years to 2015 – double what it was before the financial crisis began – a fact that, when it becomes generally known – and it will – will do little to buttress the Tories’ reputation. Two-thirds of those surveyed believed that the debt would go down by £600 billion by 2015.
Conservative supporters are, surprisingly, the worst informed. By a margin of 11 to one, they believed it would fall. Even more significantly, perhaps, the mistake is made most often by older voters – those most likely to vote and a traditional reservoir for the Conservatives.
Nearly three years ago, Cameron and chancellor George Osborne embarked on spending cuts in the sure belief that the hard work would be completed by now, leaving them ready to plan for an overall majority.
However, the Conservatives are divided within themselves and divided separately from some in the Liberal Democrats, such as business secretary Vince Cable, on what to do next.
For Cameron, the tensions with some in the Lib Dems are manageable, perhaps even deliberately created by both sides for political definition – but the tensions within the Conservatives are real.
Rustles about leadership challenges have made No 10 tetchy, leaving education secretary Michael Gove, a Cameron loyalist for now, to slap down home secretary Theresa May for a speech last Saturday where she offered her vision of conservatism.
For now, every possible cabinet contender denies leadership ambitions, even if May’s protestations are laughable, while people like defence secretary Philip Hammond and his predecessor Liam Fox nurse their own personal flames.
So far, Cameron is not listening to his enemies. More dangerously for him, however, neither is he listening to his friends or to those who are prepared to back him – if only for now.