Last week the Conservatives’ approach to the next election was laid bare.
They want to distract attention from the issues that matter. With the support of a determined section of the press, they have decided that mudslinging matters more than the futures of millions of families across this country. We had seen this approach before with the Daily Mail crossing the line of common decency with its attacks on my Dad. And, on a different level, we have seen signs of it too from the Tories, trying to smear Labour last year over the Libor market – or blame Andy Burnham this year for their failures in our National Health Service. But last week a pattern of behaviour became clearer still. On Monday, David Cameron used a parliamentary statement about human rights in Sri Lanka to talk about trade unions in Britain.
Then he hit a new low by trying to use the gross errors and misconduct of one man, Paul Flowers, to impugn the integrity of the entire Labour movement. We all want proper answers as to what went on at the Co-operative Bank, and the public deserves better than the desperate attempts by the Tory party to score the cheapest political points, including ludicrous claims that Labour’s historic links with the Co-op movement were the invention of Rev Flowers. Of course, the credibility of their smears was undermined when it emerged that the Chancellor himself was promoting the Co-op’s bid to take over Lloyds Bank branches.
The Conservatives’ tactics of fear and smear raise serious questions about the type of politics we want in Britain today. David Cameron used to claim he wanted to change his party and lead it back to the middle ground: one that cared about the environment and all Britain’s citizens – including the poorest – one that wanted an end to the worst adversarial aspects of Britain’s Punch and Judy politics. That project has now entirely disappeared and has been replaced by another – to build the Conservative Party of Lynton Crosby, a man whose mission the Prime Minister describes as being “to destroy the Labour Party”. This is a Conservative party preparing to fight the dirtiest general election campaign that we have seen in this country for over 20 years. And the Crosbyisation of the Conservative Party has reached a new intensity as their leadership becomes increasingly desperate.
They have nothing to say about the cost of living crisis and have no vision for a better Britain. All they have left is resort to the lowest form of politics: that of division, of smear and character assassination. David Cameron cannot resist a low blow when the British public craves a politics on the high ground. His main political strategy is now to sling as much mud as possible in the hope that some of it sticks. When he does so, he demeans his office. Of course, these tactics have been tried before. David Cameron has said he wants to “dust down” the playbook for the general election of 1992 and doubtless, that is why he has employed Lynton Crosby who has run elections of this sort in Australia.
But Britain has the chance to say to them over the 18 months: not here – and not this time. Every time these tactics are deployed, the Labour Party I lead will call it out. Our response to these accusations will be rapid and robust. Fear and smear won’t work. Millions of families face a cost of living crisis unequalled in their lifetimes. And the general election will determine how our country responds. The next election is far too important to be conducted in the gutter. Britain can do better than this.