5 Jan 2015

General election year kicks off: are they winning friends or alienating?

Two Tory ministers and a Tory former minister approached me this morning in the Commons to say how “ghastly” they found the opening salvos of the election campaign: “nauseating,” one said; “awful, awful” said another.

They were responding in large part to the weekend attacks on Labour from their own side which were fleshed out today with an 80-page “dossier” which the Tory campaign says shows £20.7bn extra spending that Labour has committed to for the first year of the next parliament.

What hope the voters will be turned on by the opening volleys in this campaign, you might ask, if senior figures on the Tory benches are tuning out?

George Osborne was calm itself at the Tories’ press conference as he responded to challenges from the media on his dossier.

The dossier repeatedly assumes that Labour criticism of various cuts means Labour would reverse those cuts.

In a tactic deployed by Labour and the Tories in the past in office, the chancellor asked his own Treasury officials to cost policies which his political team imagined Labour wanted to spend money on.

It’s not a massively edifying process. Former Treasury permanent secretary and one-time cabinet secretary, Lord (Gus) O’Donnell, says it’s Treasury mandarins’ “least favourite part of the job” doing these politically-inspired chores – and he is one of many saying he would much rather an independent body like the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) did the adding up.

The Tories say that was deemed impractical in the short term by an independent reviewer working on the OBR’s behalf.

The Tories believe that for all the criticism levelled at their project today they are in a win-win situation.

Either they nail some Labour spending which has slipped by unnoticed, or they force Labour to disown some loose promise or sympathetic language and disappoint a special interest group that thought a Labour government might ride to its rescue.

Ed Balls thinks the whole effect might be to acquaint some new voters with his tight grip on spending.

For many voters, it may simply make them stick their fingers in their ears more defiantly than ever.

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4 reader comments

  1. Philip says:

    I am sticking my fingers in my ears. Do they have so little understanding of the world outside their little bubble that most of us do not want a general election campaign for May starting in January? If there was a discussion of real issues based on genuine evidence rather than misleading, partial and assumed data, I might just raise some interest. But these little boys’ games are a complete turn-off & serve mostly to remind people why they hate & distrust most politicians….and why UKIP and the Greens will benefit for being “none of the above”.

  2. Aaron says:

    Are Treasury officials allowed to take part in electioneering like this? I thought they were civil servants and there to do government work only. Surely if Labour and/or the Tories want to sling mud at each other, they shouldn’t be using government resources to do it? Doesn’t this dossier the Tories have put together count as party political work and not government work?

    I see from Gary’s blog that both parties are guilty of doing this, but it doesn’t seem on to me. I seem to recall Esther McVey was rapped because she had used government resources in the DWP for some kind of party political reasons (sending newsletters or letters to constituents I think)

  3. Philip Edwards says:


    When you have a de facto one part state you don’t need friends…..or voters for that matter.

    Ask Peter Kellner at YouGov and his suggestion for “convergence.”

    The tories, LibDems and New Labour are what they have always been – front men for suited up thieves, corrupters and warmongers. UKIP are a racist tories splinter group for paranoid Sun readers.

    Not much of a choice then.

    Which is precisely the way they want it.

    Democracy? It would be nice to try it occasionally. But don’t hold your breath.

  4. D Bradley says:

    Once again we are going to have a election campaign that revolves around ” Don’t vote for the other party because all they do is lie but what we are telling you is the truth” but at the same time not understanding that the politicians in Westminster are viewed by most people who see them as professional politicians who are self-centered, shallow, opportunistic and untrustworthy Bill Clinton said “it’s the economy, stupid” well this time it’s about trust stupid and this is the point that the press and the politicians are missing

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