The Budget, something the revolting emailers should have been considering, signals the start of the general election – be it in June, a date with which Conservative leader David Cameron has been goading Gordon Brown, or next year.
How the two parties manage their messages now leaves no room for mistakes. The Conservatives will play the debt card and Labour the spend card. This means two key challenges for Cameron. The first is how to look upbeat and optimistic but realistic and concerned about the consequences of mismanagement. This suggests Cameron will have to put on the much-used ‘not angry, just disappointed’ face. Being optimistic that Britain has a brighter future will require the Tories to be happy, but not High School Musical happy, more ‘found a crumpled fiver in your jeans’ happy. The second challenge is to develop a more compelling narrative that builds confidence that the Tories are the ones who can deliver us this brighter utopia where no grannies are mugged, no child is left behind and no MP uses taxpayers’ money to buy Jamie Oliver anodised grill pans.
The answer lies in a thematic, not a technocratic, approach, because voters get turned off by detail. Especially when it involves matters financial. Last week Brown was wittering about a ‘macro-prudential body’. What is that? People may not understand quantitative easing, but they understand increased bills and the fear of unemployment.
Businesses aimed at the lower end of the market have seized the chance to flourish. Upper middle classes now consider their recycled Asda or Aldi bags a badge of honour. The Conservatives will aim for the same and hope to win new supporters.
The time ahead is going to be complicated; the Tories should save the detail for the commentators, not the mass consumer audience. No-one is taking any crap any more, be they shoppers or voters.
Tara Hamilton-Miller is a political adviser and formerly worked for the Conservative Party press team