The Conservative claims, launched on Remembrance Sunday, that a Corbyn Labour Government would cost £1.2 trillion over five years can be seen as a classic “dead cat”.
Those who, masochistically, immerse themselves in election campaign minutiae will recognise this as a tactic of the antipodean political strategist Lynton Crosby, known as the “Wizard of Oz”.
The aim is to divert, or gain, attention by, metaphorically, throwing a dead cat onto the table. The anticipated reaction is that – cue Aussie accent – everybody says “Jeez, there’s a dead cat on the table” and it then becomes the main subject of conversation.
It’s actually, unless you’re a Corbynista, quite a well-constructed and timed attack.
The Labour manifesto hasn’t yet been published and they have what’s known as a “Clause 5 meeting” scheduled to finalise it. Until then what’s been discussed/agreed at their conference or announced by senior figures is, technically, an aspiration. Consequently, Labour claim that they can’t yet provide a figure.
There is an element of irony here, and I’m sure that Labour will explain this concept to Jewish readers, in that the following morning the Radio 4 news led with the Conservative claims and Labour’s refutation that it was “Fake News”. The very next story, however, was a Labour “pledge” to provide six years of free university study per person, complete with quotes from Rayner, Corbyn and others.
They’ve subsequently made more “pledges” including, most recently, free broadband for all, with a multi billion pound price tag.
So, when is a pledge a pledge and when is it an aspiration?
Few know the intricacies of Labour Party manifesto production, fewer understand it, and even less want to!
The Clause 5 meeting can’t possibly start with a blank sheet of paper, there must be a small(ish) group producing a document to be discussed.
So how much scope is there for changing things? There are, of course, some contentious areas where a position has to be agreed and immigration/freedom of movement comes to mind. But is it really feasible to exclude something, whether good, bad or indifferent, announced by a member of the shadow cabinet, supported by the Leader? This would just be a gift for their opponents and the media. Similarly, if a meeting participant has a lightbulb in a cloud moment is there time to work it through?
The Conservatives are trying, or hoping, to steal a march and plant an impression of Labour’s profligate fiscal incontinence. This will play well to fiscal conservatives, while tax and spend lefties will ignore it. The key constituency is those in between, and time will tell with them.
There is one conclusion from this, and it’s that the Conservatives have learnt at least one lesson from 2017 when they seemed to take the view that Corbyn was just an unelectable throwback to the 70s and could be ignored. They’re not going to make that mistake again!