Setting the dogs on Labour

Posted on: 05 September 2011 by Alexander Hay

Even as the opposition is hounded by the right wing press, Cameron should remember that people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones

Foxes for their valour - but when will the pack turn on Cameron?One might even think it was deliberate. Over the weekend, right-leaning publications such as The Telegraph, The Sun and the Daily Mail published a punishing volley of stories, all intended to make the previous Labour government look as bad as possible.

If it wasn't Tony Blair being godparent to Rupert Murdoch's daughter, it was having a far-too cosy relationship with Libya's most prolific torturers, indulging in desperate appeasement of Gaddafi or Gordon Brown's tenure as PM exposed as a disordered, rancorous mess.

The world is, of course, full of strange coincidences and chance meetings, otherwise most of us wouldn't have been born. But such a concentration of dirt being exposed at once in the press is usually a good sign that someone's up to something. So let's speculate on just why Labour got a good battering over the last few days.

Firstly, it provides good cover. Prime Minister David Cameron is every bit as contaminated by his links with the Murdoch empire as Blair was, and this was made all too clear during the phone hacking scandal.

Likewise, the disturbingly chummy relationship with the Libyan government continued under Cameron's tenure right until the Arab Spring took hold there.

One has to wonder what other revelations will come out of the various documents being raked over by the National Transitional Council now that Gadaffi has been driven out, and what that might say about the present government.

Secondly, it makes the other side look bad. Reminding everyone of what was wrong with New Labour - the Machiavellianism, the crookedness, the over-reaching incompetence - is a deft way of making the Coalition look less awful by comparison. It's like 1979, and its 'Labour's Not Working Posters', had never gone away.

Even as the economy faces a double dip recession, crime reaches riotous levels and unemployment and the cost of living continues to rise, it still doesn't help Labour's cause that its last stint in Number 10 remains both recent and damaging.

Thirdly, it lets the right wing media vent its spleen while keeping in with the current administration. News International's once close relationship with Labour has long since been cast aside, while the Telegraph and the Daily Mail have a visceral hatred of the centre left that has not dimmed since the latter's ejection from power.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, get to shore up their support with horror stories about what 'the other lot' are like even though they would have done exactly the same at the time. As Boris Johnson noted in today's Telegraph, if another Gadaffi were to come to power in Libya tomorrow, the present government would be every bit as keen to win his favour.

But most importantly, it lets the government brush over an existential crisis within the Conservative party itself. As Nadine Dorries' faintly sinister plan to bring in religious counselling/guilt tripping for women seeking abortions shows, the nasty party remains alive and well, while the growing gulf between rich and poor and violence on the streets is an even more potent reminder of the pre-New Labour era.

As the Scottish Conservatives seriously consider splitting from their parent party and forming a more Scots-friendly Centre Right party (which will continue to get no votes), it's worth remembering that the Tory brand remains as contaminated as the New Labour brand, perhaps more so, and for much longer too.

And most contaminated of all is Cameron himself. Slow to act and then over-zealous in his dealing with the August Riots, Cameron already looks more like a PR man trying to excuse the inexcusable. Even his recent 'triumph' in Libya is not what it seems.

Keen as they are to do his bidding for now, Cameron must be all too aware of what will happen if he continues to show weakness - unlike Labour, which clung to Gordon Brown at his worst, the Conservative party, and its supporters in the press, know no such loyalty. He will not be able to distract them for long.

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Alexander Hay

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