Jonathan Mackie: Gordon Brown - Back to the Future
Jonathan Mackie is a two time General Election candidate and a member of the Candidates List. He is unconvinced that environmental issues should play an leading part in the Conservative Party's attack on Gordon Brown.
“An analogue politician in a digital world.”
- David Cameron’s signature soundbite describing Gordon Brown, in his response to the Chancellor’s tenth budget last week.
Like a First World War General, David Cameron is intent on attacking the Government not where their line is ostensibly weakest but where it is considered strongest. Number 11 Downing Street. The Opposition Leader seems to be betting the house on making the charge of anachronism stick to the Chancellor. The unspoken comparison Cameron invites is that it is he and not the Chancellor who is capable of responding to future challenges.
It is a line of attack which is esoteric – how many people can actually distinguish between analogue and digital? – and ignores a more obvious and perhaps richer seam, that of the umbilical link between Brown and an increasingly isolated and discredited Blair.
Cameron’s consideration that Brown is outdated and incapable, an almost Dad’s Army figure, appears, if the response to the Budget is anything to go by, to be based on Brown’s uncertain green credentials and Cameron’s convincing own. David Cameron is intent on re-positioning the Conservatives, if not quite as tree huggers then certainly as concerned environmentalists. Friends of the Earth are a favoured lobby group oft quoted by the Party. Whilst Cameron attaches a wind turbine to his Kensington home, Brown offers VED relief on cars that are unavailable in the UK. Cameron’s Conservatives have already established the caricatures - Brown the gas guzzling Chancellor, Cameron the eco-warrior.
How valid are those positions, and how influential are environmental factors in determining future voting intentions? According to MORI’s latest polling evidence - not very. Polling evidence from February 2006 actually shows an improvement in public confidence of future environmental quality from September 2005 and 54% of respondents actually believe that environmental quality will either stay much the same or get better over the next few years. Precious little mileage there.
More concerning perhaps is the polling evidence recording the most important factors facing Britain today. Only 8% consider pollution and the environment to be important factors. Making the environment the eighth most important factor facing the country. Other ancillary environmental issues fair even worse, with GM foods and countryside issues recording an aggregate of 1%.
Cameron would argue no doubt that by using environmental issues to distinguish between a contemporary Conservative Party and a dated Chancellor, he is appealing to those who have become disenfranchised from politics and have in the recent past alighted onto single issue platforms, of which environmental concern has been most salient. Equally, Cameron would argue that it is his moral duty to utilise his political profile to raise his clearly deeply held concerns that our current course of development could lead to environmental cataclysm.
But the fact remains; backed by polling evidence that environmentalism is not the vote winner that perhaps Cameron is hoping. Nor are the Chancellor’s own environmental credentials or lack of them, evidence that he is “the past”. The public’s perception of Brown after almost nine years in office is well established; only 17% of people have no opinion of Brown’s performance as Chancellor, whilst 53% of people have no opinion of Cameron’s performance as Leader of the Opposition.
A more profitable line of attack would undoubtedly be the linkage between Blair and Brown. Brown may well succeed the Prime Minister, but the two are clearly linked in the public imagination. The Blair and Brown duet has dominated the political scene from well over a decade. Brown cannot disassociate himself easily from Blair’s follies, nor can he hide from a crumbling economic legacy that he is likely to leave; with taxation at an all time high, business investment at an all time low, productivity growth static and the red tape pandemic he has created. Similarly, Brown’s position as leader of Labour’s 2005 General Election campaign – he was recalled to lead the campaign following Blair’s pre election wobble – makes it inconceivable that he did not know of the secret loans that have restored sleaze to the centre of the political debate.
Now is very much the time to illuminate Brown’s deep involvement with some of this Government’s greatest policy errors; such as the early abolition of advance corporation tax relief for which Brown was the chief architect, and avoid the honeymoon period that an elevated Brown would surely benefit from.
Environmentalism is something that we should all share, but as a political platform designed to demonstrate the distinction between a Conservative Party ready to meet the challenges of tomorrow and a Chancellor and soon to be Labour Leader stuck in the past, perhaps not.