This should be the Tories’ moment of glory. Hope and confidence should be bubbling over in their hearts. They should be walking and talking – as Blair did in early 1997 – as the government in waiting.
But yet, they just don’t have it, do they?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a partisan Labour supporter, but I’m not blind to the spectacular flaws of the Prime Minister and the Labour team: failings which will probably still cost Labour the election. However, whereas there was a genuine sense of excitement and potential on the eve of the 1997 election, the Tories just haven’t managed to create that buzz. The best that they’ve managed is a feeling that Cameron isn’t as bad as, you know, those old-skool Tories from the 1980s.
But there’s something decidedly weedy about Cameron. He comes across as an “OK sort of bloke”, but certainly no paradigm alterer. For the Tories, that is a great pity. They need a star. Cameron is not one.
And then there’s George Osbourne. I’m sad to say that my conception of him is coloured by remembering him as a piss-head 18 year old toff, stumbling through his college bar in the the early 1990s. I’m not sure that he’s managed to shake that aura of tosserdom, to be frank. Martin Bright gets it spot on in his latest post, “No Credible Alternative“:
Smug is the default facial expression for the shadow chancellor. So it was clearly with some difficulty that George Osborne stifled his habitual self-satisfied grin during his conference speech this year. He knew he had another rabbit to pull out of the hat in the form of a two-year freeze on council tax (and what an ingenious piece of populist trickery it was). It didn’t quite compare with the inheritance tax coup of last year, but Osborne had good reason to feel pleased with himself.
His aides had instructed him to adopt the most serious face he could muster. “The trouble is that he looked like he was trying not to burp,” said one former Tory official now able to speak freely in the bar of the Birmingham Hyatt. The shadow chancellor has created a category of arrogance all his own. It takes an awesome patrician cheek to suggest that only the Tories can be trusted to check the excesses of the masters of the capitalist universe. This is a “sell” to the British people no more credible than Labour’s message that only Gordon Brown can be trusted with the economy.
Do you remember Osborne appearing on the Today Programme two years ago, to proclaim his pet project: creating a Maglev levitating train system in the United Kingdom. A great idea, no doubt. However, the exuberant enthusiasm of Osborne for this project recalled the excitement of a little boy with his first train set. Not the sort of thing that a serious Chancellor of the Exchequer in waiting should be burbling about on national radio. A couple of weeks later, a Maglev train crashed in Germany, killing 23 people.
It is amazing, isn’t it. The Labour Party is at its weakest since the 1980s, but yet the best the Tories can do is to appear inoffensive but ineffectual. That hasn’t worked for the LibDems, and I’m not convinced that it will do it for the Tories.