Hague’s bumblers seem clueless when it comes to the PR war

After last week, you have to ask yourself whether Conservative leaders have an ounce of common sense, let alone PR acumen, left in them. Do they have no regard for what is going on around them? Don’t they know we are fighting a war and, more to the point, that they are engaged in a series of local, regional and European elections which may be crucial to their continuation in office? Have they never heard that timing is often of the essence in politics? And don’t they understand that giving confusing signals is no way to persuade the public that they really do care about health and education?

After last week, you have to ask yourself whether Conservative

leaders have an ounce of common sense, let alone PR acumen, left in

them. Do they have no regard for what is going on around them? Don’t

they know we are fighting a war and, more to the point, that they are

engaged in a series of local, regional and European elections which may

be crucial to their continuation in office? Have they never heard that

timing is often of the essence in politics? And don’t they understand

that giving confusing signals is no way to persuade the public that they

really do care about health and education?



Let’s take the last point first. It is perfectly reasonable for the

Tories to worry about whether the public believes the NHS and state

education are safe in their hands. There was, it seems, a wilful refusal

on the public’s part to give them any credit while they were in

Government for trying to improve these services - certainly not for the

vast increase in real money they lavished on the NHS and precious little

for encouraging parents and teachers to take over the running of their

own schools from doctrinal local authorities.



But it is entirely another matter to try to curry public favour by

giving the impression that for 20 years they have been barking up the

wrong tree in trying to improve public services through commercial

pressures and private cash. After all, a Labour Government now thinks

these are not entirely bad ideas. And it is frankly gratuitous nonsense

for those close to William Hague to suggest that the row which followed

his deputy, Peter Lilley’s ’nationalisation’ of social policy, has cast

the Tories in a more caring light. It has merely given the impression

that they are clueless.



As for timing, they could not have chosen a worse night to float their

new emphasis on publicly provided public services than when a thousand

or so were gathered at the Hilton to celebrate Margaret Thatcher’s

becoming Prime Minister 20 years ago. That was so pointed as positively

to goad the media into making a meal of it and thereby widen the

perceived divisions in the Opposition at a time when the Government was

winning credit for keeping its own ranks, and NATO’s, generally behind

the Kosovo campaign.



But surely the last thing any sensible political leadership does when it

is fighting a whole raft of elections on which its own survival may

depend is to advertise its past ’mistakes’, abruptly give the impression

of changing direction and cause a sizeable fraction of the Shadow

Cabinet to spit blood and other supporters and candidates either to go

ballistic or to despair.



Mr Blair must be feeling as fortunate in his enemies as Mrs Thatcher did

when Michael Foot was in his pomp in the early 1980s. It’s as if the

Tories these days think that PR requires them to publicly rubbish

themselves.



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