Jenni Russell has an article in the Guardian praising David Cameron
. It is an interesting piece precisely because of the errors of fact and analysis in it.
Russell has completely bought the Cameron spin that the Tory Party has changed and is now a party of the centre ground, having marginalised the right-wingers in the same way that Tony Blair marginalised the left. Instead, she claims, the dividing line is that both parties want to achieve similar things, but Labour takes an authoritarian, top down, pessimistic and centralised approach to doing so, and the Tories take a more liberal, bottom up, optimistic approach.
This is an analysis which many people who read the Guardian will find quite plausible, and if it were true, it would be lethal for Labour. Labour can't win an election with just the support of people who read the Guardian, but it certainly can't win without them.
However, Russell's analysis is based on the following three myths:1. 'Cameron has shifted the Conservatives on to the centre ground'
Cameron hasn't taken on and defeated the right-wing of his party, and there hasn't been a Clause 4 moment - the right-wing of the Tory Party is much more powerful than the left-wing of the Labour Party was in 1994 or thereafter.
The pledge about 'keeping to Labour spending plans for 2 years', which is cited in the article, means not cutting taxes before 2010, and therefore constrains a Tory government not at all. On every issue imaginable, from the environment to poverty to privatising the Royal Mail, the Tories have been lurching rightwards in recent months.2. 'The Tories have promised plenty of action on poverty and inequality'
Russell mentions the minimum wage, tax credits and child poverty as examples of how the Tories have adopted social justice. But they have refused to sign up to meeting Labour's targets for reducing and ending child poverty, saying that they will "aspire" to meet them, but won't "pledge" to meet them. (Want to know how much an 'aspiration' to end child poverty is worth? If you've got one of those 'aspirations' and 70p, you can buy a copy of the Guardian.)
They might not support abolishing the minimum wage or tax credits - but even in David Cameron's 2005 election manifesto with Michael Howard as leader (back when Guardian columnists knew that the Tories were right-wing and nasty) they promised to retain the minimum wage. What they have done since is to vote against all the increases in tax credits and the minimum wage. If they continue to do this in government, it will mean that over time people on low incomes end up worse-off.
That's even before we get on to their plans to cut taxes for millionaires, the moralistic and failed approach of blaming people for being poor, or their welfare reform policies which are far nastier and less effective than Labour's. But, hey, at least 'they sound nicer' and are 'morally indignant' when talking about poverty. (For those keeping score, 'sounding nice' and 'being morally indignant' are worth about as much as one of those 'aspirations').3. 'It's impossible to know how far the Tory agenda would be delivered in office, or how successful it would be'
It is certainly possible to make an educated guess, providing your research goes beyond repeating Conservative Party talking points. You could look at what has happened when Tories have gained power in local authorities, for instance. Or you could look at other countries where their policies have been tried out. Or what happened when people on the centre-left across the Atlantic decided that there was no real difference between a boring and uncharismatic technocrat whose party which had been in power for a while and a 'compassionate Conservative'
In some areas, this kind of analysis shows that the Tories are likely to be different in power from what they are promising at the moment. For example, they say that they want to give voluntary and community groups more opportunities and more funding. But when they get the chance to do so, instead they cut the amount of funding available for voluntary and community groups. This suggests bad times ahead for these groups if the Tories get into power.
In other areas, though, they say what they mean and mean what they say. So when they praise the kind of welfare reform which happened in the USA, which led to more people living in poverty while massively increasing handouts to private corporations, that suggests that they will try to do the same once in power.
Nailing these three myths - that the Tories have marginalised their right-wingers; that they share Labour's aims on social justice; and that they offer a new and untested approach - is important because people deserve to know the truth about what an alternative government stands for and would actually do before they go and choose who to vote for.
Making this happen is partly about explaining the difference between the Tory spin and the Tory policies, with campaigns like the excellent minimum wage one
. But just attacking the Tories won't work while levels of poverty are static or even rising, and when the government's message is that our policies on inheritance tax or welfare are similar to those of the Tories. Our next relaunch needs to include some new policies which make it clear even to 'low information voters' such as Guardian columnists about how Labour is making a difference and making our society more socially just and fair.