Michael Brown: A Brownite trap awaits the Conservative leader

Mr Cameron must be disappointed. His small but consistent poll lead has evaporated

Share

As a prospective candidate for three years, standing in a Labour seat before the 1979 election, I had been trained by the modern campaigning tactics of the Thatcher era to get the Tory message over to a sceptical voter in 50 words and in less than 30 seconds. "Vote for me and you will have the chance to buy your council house at a discount. You won't be compelled to join a union; you'll vote in a secret ballot if the union forces you to go on strike. Under us you'll pay less tax and be better off."

By the start of the campaign I was pretty well word-perfect, and even though the manifesto was light on specifics, my pitch was a reasonable interpretation of what I thought we might do. We said nothing to voters about privatisation. Denationalisation of state enterprises was regarded as far too esoteric for voters and, scarred by the inability of successive governments to lower taxes and control inflation, we steered clear of getting into too much detail.

Of course, it took years before the union reforms were fully implemented. And within weeks of our successful election we actually increased indirect taxes. But the direction of travel was clearly established, and voters saw where, ultimately, we wanted to take the country. By contrast, David Cameron's message in his leader's address today at Bournemouth will take more than 40 minutes, and I doubt if it can be distilled on the doorstep by even the ablest of his "A-list" women candidates in fewer than a thousand words or half an hour.

There are still no firm policies, along with a determination not to "bang on" about crime, immigration, tax or Europe. Some delegates are becoming increasingly irritated by the way the Camer-oons are banning discussion of these issues. The leadership "talks" about the environment, child-care, social responsibility, work-life balance and international poverty, while dismissing, pejoratively, as "banging on", discussion of inconvenient topics. Mr Cameron is understandably determined - like Mrs Thatcher - not to get tied down to specific pledges and, like her, wants to break away from the immediate Tory past. She was as different from her predecessors as Mr Cameron seeks to be.

But a trap awaits Mr Cameron, in the shape of Gordon Brown. In nine months' time he, more than anyone else - even more than Mr Cameron - will define the politics of the next three years. The talk of Bournemouth is just how much top Tories are relishing taking on Mr Brown. The return of Punch and Judy politics, however, with the personal insults - "weak... incredible... autistic" - suggests a serious misreading of what is about to engulf the Tories next year.

Already Mr Brown may be preparing himself to lower taxes - certainly at the margin for those on modest incomes. As the Tory hierarchy worries about its own tax commission proposals, along with John Redwood's No Turning Back pamphlet and comments from the likes of Edward Leigh, I suspect that Mr Brown's acolyte, Ed Balls, is busy dissecting every detail of these offerings with a view to recommending standard rate cuts and threshold increases to the new Prime Minister.

The scene could even be set for a repeat of the Lawson/ Thatcher announcements on the eve of the 1987 election. "I have no proposals to reduce income tax... beyond one penny." Having previously opposed tax cuts, Neil Kinnock's Labour Party was frozen in the political headlights, challenged to vote for the measure but ultimately put in the nightmare position of having to abstain. The prospect of confronting Tories with a similar dilemma will surely prove deliciously enticing for clever strategists like Mr Balls - who may yet be Chancellor of the Exchequer before the next election.

Mr Cameron has had a largely free ride at this conference, the tone of which has been deliberately low-key. He must be disappointed that, after the turmoil that engulfed Labour only three weeks ago, his small but consistent poll lead has evaporated. So long as he is riding high he can afford to ignore any right-wing noisesoff. He has successfully defined himself as new, young and metropolitan, but his appeal has yet to extend to northern England. The husky-loving, hoodie-hugging, environmentalist has been undermined by the press relations gaffe when the bicycling leader was accompanied by the gas-guzzling official car bearing the shoes and the briefcase.

The Presbyterian style that will inhabit Downing Street upon the arrival of Mr Brown may provide a welcome antidote to the Blair years of spin and stardust that Mr Cameron seeks to emulate. The question is whether sunshine and optimism will be enough to challenge the new frugality that will be the deliberate personal hallmark of Mr Brown.

mrbrown@talktalk.net

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Mobile Developer (.NET / C# / Jason / Jquery / SOA)

£40000 - £65000 per annum + bonus + benefits + OT: Ampersand Consulting LLP: M...

Humanities Teacher - Greater Manchester

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: The JobAt ...

Design Technology Teacher

£22800 - £33600 per annum: Randstad Education Manchester Secondary: Calling al...

Foundation Teacher

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: EYFS Teachers - East Essex...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Critics of Fiona Woolf say she should step down amid accusations of an establishment cover-up  

Fiona Woolf resignation: As soon as she became the story, she had to leave

James Ashton
 

Letters: Electorate should be given choice on drugs policy

Independent Voices
Bryan Adams' heartstopping images of wounded British soldiers to go on show at Somerset House

Bryan Adams' images of wounded soldiers

Taken over the course of four years, Adams' portraits are an astonishing document of the aftermath of war
The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

The drugs revolution starts now as MPs agree its high time for change

Commons debate highlights growing cross-party consensus on softening UK drugs legislation, unchanged for 43 years
The camera is turned on tabloid editors in Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter'

Gotcha! The camera is turned on tabloid editors

Hugh Grant says Richard Peppiatt's 'One Rogue Reporter' documentary will highlight issues raised by Leveson
Fall of the Berlin Wall: It was thanks to Mikhail Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell

Fall of the Berlin Wall

It was thanks to Gorbachev that this symbol of division fell
Halloween 2014: What makes Ouija boards, demon dolls, and evil clowns so frightening?

What makes ouija boards and demon dolls scary?

Ouija boards, demon dolls, evil children and clowns are all classic tropes of horror, and this year’s Halloween releases feature them all. What makes them so frightening, decade after decade?
A safari in modern Britain: Rose Rouse reveals how her four-year tour of Harlesden taught her as much about the UK as it did about NW10

Rose Rouse's safari in modern Britain

Rouse decided to walk and talk with as many different people as possible in her neighbourhood of Harlesden and her experiences have been published in a new book
Welcome to my world of no smell and odd tastes: How a bike accident left one woman living with unwanted food mash-ups

'My world of no smell and odd tastes'

A head injury from a bicycle accident had the surprising effect of robbing Nell Frizzell of two of her senses

Matt Parker is proud of his square roots

The "stand-up mathematician" is using comedy nights to preach maths to big audiences
Paul Scholes column: Beating Manchester City is vital part of life at Manchester United. This is first major test for Luke Shaw, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao – it’s not a game to lose

Paul Scholes column

Beating City is vital part of life at United. This is first major test for Shaw, Di Maria and Falcao – it’s not a game to lose
Frank Warren: Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing

Frank Warren column

Call me an old git, but I just can't see that there's a place for women’s boxing
Adrian Heath interview: Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room

Adrian Heath's American dream...

Former Everton striker prepares his Orlando City side for the MLS - and having Kaka in the dressing room
Simon Hart: Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manchester City will rise again but they need to change their attitude

Manuel Pellegrini’s side are too good to fail and derby allows them to start again, says Simon Hart
Isis in Syria: A general reveals the lack of communication with the US - and his country's awkward relationship with their allies-by-default

A Syrian general speaks

A senior officer of Bashar al-Assad’s regime talks to Robert Fisk about his army’s brutal struggle with Isis, in a dirty war whose challenges include widespread atrocities