Saturday, November 15, 2008

A choice of catastrophes

To the disgust of some of the commentators on the Tory Diary blog – but applauded by others – Robert Winnett sketches out the timeline on "How the Conservatives lose the next election".

Separately, the lead editorial declares, "The Tories should be as angry as the rest of us", pointing out in lucid terms quite why that should be. It then remarks that "the place where there is a dearth of the splenetic anger felt by the rest of us is on the front bench of the Conservative Party."

The focus here, rightly and necessarily, is on the dire financial situation and the paper has put its finger on the pulse and correctly diagnosed the disease. Behind the posturing and preening of the Tory front bench, there is manifestly lacking that outrage at the appalling mismanagement of the current government, which means that the Tory leaders fail entirely to transmit to the nation sense of conviction or seriousness.

And, while the focus of The Telegraph is on economic issues, the greater problem is that the rot spreads far wider. In September, for instance, just before the Conservative Party conference and after a series of carefully crafted posts not least this one, we called for a clear statement of policy on energy - an absolutely vital need if we are to stop the lights going out.

Of course, we did not get that statement – nor even a proper speech on energy – at the conference. Instead, as we later discover, we get the Friends of the Earth.

As with energy, so it is with defence, we get the same lack of coherence. Instead of an energentic and principled attack on the government, we see the Tory opposition staring at an open goal and then sauntering off to the pavilion for a cup of tea, leaving the balls unattended.

In this context, please spare the time to have a look at this piece. You may have passed it by, thinking it was a "toy" post, but it isn't. It tells the horrifying and desperately sad tale of Sergeant Hickey, which cannot help but move you. Tears do not come easily to me but, after a long interview last night with Sgt Hickey's mother, Pauline (on which this account - heavily revised from the original - is partially based), I struggled with this one and still do.

Of course, it goes without saying that one harbours a deep, unremitting anger at the government for sending gallant soldiers like Sgt Hickey into the battlefield (and that it was) so unprepared that their horrible deaths were all but inevitable. But, if you can spare a little bit more time to read this, you will see that the failures and dereliction were not entirely on the side of the government. We convey in this piece a stark illustration of how the opposition too failed to do its job.

As a conclusion to that piece, I wrote:

That is but one small example of where the Conservatives so consistently fail as an opposition – to their own disadvantage. They could have been trumpeting a "success". Instead, they have nothing to say. Until they re-learn the art of opposition, there can be little confidence that they are fit for the greater and more demanding task of government.
At the time this was written, I had forgotten that I had written a piece in December 2006 with exactly the same title – for exactly the same reason.

I do not accept – as some argue on the Tory front bench - that oppositions are powerless, or that they cannot control or dictate the political agenda. Careful, research-driven, forensic opposition always yields results – that is how Thatcher won her first election. But this is something the Conservatives, under the tutelage of David Cameron, have forgotten how to do.

Thus, I agree with the thrust of The Telegraph pieces this morning. And, in using again the photograph which we used in October, we make the same point.

As long as this is the prevailing image of the Tory front bench, then the paper has it right. The Tories are on their way to a defeat at the next election. That will be a catastrophe for them but, as it stands, a Tory victory would be an even bigger catastrophe for the country than a continued Labour administration.

And that, dear reader, the tragedy of our times. All that is on offer from our political classes is a choice of catastrophes.