Smithson’s view: How can the Lib Dems exploit the Tory “Thatcher tendency”?

At a party just before I left for France on holiday I got talking to a group of articulate men in their early forties who all knew each other from their university days when they had been prominent in Tory student politics.

You would have thought they would have been happy and upbeat about their party’s current prospects. Not so. Almost to a man they thought it had been hijacked by a leadership which had put winning above all other considerations. What was the point of victory unless it would herald the sort of policies that they said had been so successful in the Thatcher era?

Although I was aware that there were many Tories who thought this way I had not heard it expressed so vehemently before. Could this be an opportunity for the Lib Dems?

My suggestion is that Clegg and the rest of the campaign team should start “love-bombing” the Tory leader to drive a wedge between him and the mainstream of his party. He should repeatedly praise Cameron for the changes he has tried to bring, including adopting Labour’s spending plans, as a way of drawing a sharp contrast with the “real” Conservative party behind.

So he could develop a line of rhetoric about how good it was that the Tories were now led by a man who had come to terms with his party’s past and was trying to do something about it. The question voters would have to ask was whether the same “nice Mr. Cameron” would be allowed to operate like this if in power.

Would this work? I don’t know but it would certainly make the guys I referred to earlier feel more uncomfortable.

* Mike Smithson founded and edits PoliticalBetting.com, the UK’s leading political discussion blog. He was a founder member of the Liberal Democrats, stood for Parliament at the 1992 General Election, and has served as both a county and borough councillor. This is the fifth in a regular series of articles from Mike.

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27 Comments

  • Yes, but it might also make potential LibDems feel that they could vote Tory…

  • I agree with David. Let the real Tories re-start their civil wars. This will happen sooner (if Mr Cam. starts fading in the Polls – he may have already or about to peak too early)- later when the Tories think they are a the verge of winning a GE – they just wont be able to help themselves.

  • This is a policy that might work: eagle-eyed observers will remember that Camoron tried praising Blair but denigrating Brown in a similar way. Now, we know that Blair and Brown are the same thing, but your average prospector doesn’t think so & has a soft spot for Blair, presumably because he was well packaged.

    It was also used rather well by Camoron to target floating voters, who voted Liberal Democrat in 2005 out of opposition to Howard, & feel that it’s safe to back Camoron now. This constituency might well be won over by lovebombing.

    But I find it a repulsive tactic. In fact, Camoron’s “lovebombing” of floating voters was the very thing that put me off voting for him once & for all. The Daily Mail tendency disconcerted me, but not enough to stop me being taken in, then I suddenly woke up to his dishonesty & hypocrisy when I observed this.

    It depends on the mentality of the voters. But such a campaign might be successful if it is solidly grounded in truth & isn’t in any way, shape or form like Camoron’s own tactics.

  • Surely its not a question of praising Cameron, but constantly proving that he does not carry his own party.

    Is it not better to expose the fact that he simply doesn’t have enough like-minded MP’s to form a cabinet that could maintain collective responsibility?

    Who- aside from a very few (Osbourn being the prime example) actually agree with him- if he were to form a government he would have to include the likes of Fox and Davis- the true Thatcher tories. Even the younger MPs would would take jobs are not on Cameron’s side really- look at (God help us all) Dorries.

    Correct me if I’m wrong but I’m sure I read a poll of Tory PPC’s somewhere that showed more than half still aline themselves with thatcher- can’t remeber where saw it though!

    Point is- don’t love up Dave, but hit the actual roots of the party.

  • Andy, you may not like my choice of words or my tone of voice, but it is a serious concern that I raise. “Lovebombing” campaigns can work, & this one would have solid material to work on (such as Gove & Osbourne’s support for 42 days, their authoritarianism in 2005 which is still there beneath the surface, the fact that Tory local councils never behave in a Camerooon fashion, etc).

    But at the same time, they may also repel people, as I was repelled by Tory “lovebombing” earlier this year.

    You have always to decide which people you are aiming at & pitch to them. It could be that some people’s discomfort is a price worth paying for others’ support. I think this is potentially excellent, I merely warn that it might go wrong if the relevant strategists don’t take care.

  • The other problem is that the more we ‘love bomb’ Cameron, the more everyone in the press witters on about hung parliament scenarios.

  • The point of the Cameron strategy is that he will win and introduce an incoherent jumble of policies some to appeal to the tory, some to the “liberal” Conservatives, some made up because they have thought of anything, sometp appease lobby groups but most to make the rich richer – like the £2 million pound inheritance tax free allowance.

    It will be like Blair again – what matters is what ‘works’ – i.e. what plays well with a Focus group

    The group the Lib Dems should ‘love bomb’ is the Conservatives who want lower taxes, a criminal justice system that delivers justice and incentives that reward effort, not inherited wealth.

  • I’m not sure about a simplistic campaign of ‘love-bombing’.

    Unless we want to be seen as promiscuous floosies we should be aware of our position in the popularity stakes as next best, so we should be clear about the state of our availability to voters without implying we are desperate to hang up our morals along with our drawers!

    So complement our more ample and prominent competitors by all means but do so only in a way that emphasises our own homely charms and the real choices on offer.

    If Cameron has made one positive step towards lasting commitment and a coherent vision of the future, why has he not followed more of our example?

    While some may be lured by the sweet voice of the pretty boy, we can be sure his head will be turned when he is done. By comparison we compose tunes, write lyrics, play the piano and cook a mean rabbit stew too – now, which is more satisfying?

  • David Allen 2nd Sep '08 - 4:40pm

    “Love bombing” means saying something you don’t honestly feel, just because you think it’s a smart strategy. It isn’t. You will sound insincere, and, people will be able to tell.

    “Love bombing” means listening to Cameron when he makes a pitch for Lib Dem voters, and then telling said voters that it’s a jolly good pitch and they should go for it!

    Mike Smithson’s judgment is often good, but, doing something just because it p*sses off your most hated opposition activists is almost always self-indulgent and wrong.

  • Never mind “love bombing,” whatever that is. It’s easy – just be pro-Europe. Talk about the advantages of the euro, and why we should be in. Talk about the advantages of Schengen, and why we should be in. Talk about the advantages of working together in Europe on all sorts of issues, from foreign policy to the environment. Then lean back and watch the swivel eyed nutter wing of the tory party scream abuse and lose votes.

  • David Allen 2nd Sep '08 - 6:32pm

    No of course not Julian. When your opponents talk sense, you should just go quiet or talk about something different. You don’t have to applaud.

  • Laurence Boyce wrote:-

    “Remind me what the advantages of Schengen are. I’ve forgotten.”

    You don’t have to sit in a queue watching your engine temperature gauge every time you cross an internal EU land border.

    Since you have to sit in a queue at Dover, anyway, there is no advantage in the UK signing up to Schengen, and every possible advantage in keeping out.

  • Mark Williams 2nd Sep '08 - 8:04pm

    Love bombing the Conservatives doesn’t make a lot of sense if you want to split the party. IDS and Thatcher were booted out because the Conservatives were doing badly in the polls. Conservaives aren’t going to openly criticise Cameron while they are ahead in the polls.

    There are 4 categories of Tory member: the pro-business/small government types (e.g. Alan Duncan), the gentry (small in number but bags of local influence in rural seats, think Cameron and his school chums), the ex-army/WI true-blue rugger buggers (ID-S) and the hangers and floggers (scary people, worse than Widdecombe and Tebbit).

    The businessmen will do anything to get the Labour government off their backs.

    The gentry will do anything to get back into power – they have to mix with the hoi polloi in the Conservatives so a bit of palliness with the Lib Dems won’t hurt much more.

    The army types will grumble the most. But they don’t really understand politics (they are mostly members for the social events) but they do understand loyalty.

    The hangers and floggers will also grumble a bit (even though most of them will switch off when they hear the word Lib Dem), but they grumble about everything so they will be ignored.

    If Cameron is vulnerable it is over Europe, because if he is seen too pro-EU will bring charges of disloyalty to this country, which will set many of the true blue nationalists running to UKIP.

  • Mark Williams – good analysis.

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