Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Doors of Perception

Hard though it is to believe, the UK's two main parties are on the verge of civil war. Conservative right is attacking Conservative left and Labour left is attacking Labour right. And it is all over which idiot, or bunch of idiots, in either party, left the doors of perception too wide open because they wanted a bit of 'wiggle room'. So what is at stake?

- On the Labour front: Recovery - When is a recovery not a recovery? When is the word recovery premature? Is 'recovery' going to become the word most associated with Labour in the run up to the next election?
- On the Conservative front: Spending - How much should a future Conservative government cut public services? Is Mr Osborne faint hearted in his approach? Does he need to slash and burn more? Will spending cuts be associated with the Conservatives in the run up to the next election?

For both parties, perception is more than ever really the problem (rather than the solution). Everyone wants to stand in the middle of the road nowadays, despite the old Nye Bevan aphorism that such people tend to get run over. But ever since New Labour moved everyone closer to the centre ground in the late 90s, the political parties have been too terrified to move away, just in case the sidewalk holds even greater horrors. At least in the middle of the road, you can keep your enemies close and never suffer such accusations as: "Look, he/she is on the wrong side of the road." At least no-one need appear to be like the proverbial 'chicken', always thinking about crossing to the other side... And if everyone is doing political cross dressing nowadays then no-one can point at the other guy and laugh.

Problem is that the natives, and the party activists are getting restless. They are starting to realise that even though the next election should be one of the 'big ones', with a hell of a lot at stake, no-one is really sure what actually is at stake. Gordon will claim 'recovery' is here and carry on as before, and Conservatives will insist on spending cuts, but not on the scale that some in the party, and the city and even the civil service would expect.

Politics is about nothing else if it is not about massaging public perception. We know that, "You may fool all the people some of the time, you can even fool some of the people all of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all the time." At some point the truth... the natives... the party activists will catch up and say that something is not quite right? Surely?

Although who knows? Gordon Brown might well play a blinder and call a general election at the beginning of the Conservative Party Conference this autumn. It would certainly wrong foot the opposition. Maybe that is the best the Gordon can hope to do right now.

As George Dubya Bush put it: "You can fool some of the people all the time, and those are the ones you want to concentrate on."