What the Tea Party and the British Left could learn from Tony Blair

I haven’t read A Journey yet – I will probably wait until it comes out in paperback. At the moment all I know of the book is derived from virtualstoa’s lengthly – and undoubtedly masochistic – tweet-by-tweet of it, as well as blogs on its clunkiness and bad sex. One passage that struck me from the New Yorker review of the book was this one that they quoted:

With each successive Tory leader, I would develop a line of attack, but I only did so after a lot of thought. So I defined Major as weak; Hague as better at jokes than judgment; Howard as an opportunist; Cameron as a flip-flop, not knowing where he wanted to go. . . . Expressed like that, these attacks seem flat, rather mundane almost, and not exactly inspiring—but that’s their appeal. Any one of those charges, if it comes to be believed, is actually fatal. Yes, it’s not like calling your opponent a liar, or a fraud, or a villain or a hypocrite, but the middle-ground floating voter kind of shrugs their shoulders at those claims. They don’t chime. They’re too over the top, too heavy, and they represent an insult, not an argument. Whereas the lesser charge, because it’s more accurate and precisely because it’s more low-key, can stick. And if it does, that’s that. Because in each case, it means they’re not a good leader. So game over.

Passages like that remind you of just how astute a politician Blair could be. He is absolutely right to say that milder rhetoric generally beats some more fierce invective.

A case in point is the Tea Party movement in the US. Obama and the Democrats are weak politically, but the main line of attack on Obama comprises of a series of insults: that he’s a Muslim, Communist, or that he’s not even American – that fall far short of the mark because they’re too angry and ignorant to have much of an impact.

Blair’s words should also be borne in mind by those wanting to build resistance to the impending spending cuts by the coalition. Merely winning the economic argument will not be enough. As well as challenging the economic consensus, the coalition of groups contesting the wisdom and severity of these cuts needs to also develop a political narrative.

How, then, should David Cameron, Nick Clegg and the coalition be portrayed? One that paints them as “evil” or “same old Tories” will not be sufficient to win over popular support. David Cameron does not come across as “evil” or as a divisive figure like, say, Thatcher. Following Blair’s maxim, we must find something more silent, yet more deadly in the long run.

In my view, this line of attack would be to portray David Cameron, George Osborne and the rest as “out of touch” and unaware of the catastrophic consequences these cuts would cause. The privileged background of the vast majority of Cameron’s cabinet is common knowledge. It’s very unlikely that Cameron would have used a Sure Start Centre, a neighbourhood Post Office, or the number 27 bus, and so would be completely ignorant of how people can come to rely on these sorts of services. The background of George Osborne: Eton, Oxford, Modern History Degree, Career Politician – is hardly filled with economics experience, and it would be a relatively straightforward task to paint him as inexperienced and out of touch with the needs of ordinary people.

Those challenging the cuts need to emphasise that they are unnecessary, often counter-productive, and not our only option. If we can couple it with an accompanying political narrative, we can seriously begin to challenge the coalition of cutters.

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