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Simon C

Cook was consistent. He took a principled stand on Iraq, and voiced his criticisms in clear, but not strident language.

Similarly, Conservatives need to be both consistent and not strident.

That means, for example, supporting the government when it veers in a Conservative direction - eg Foundation Hospitals. Our default tone of voice should not be acrimony - we should reserve moral outrage for the occasions which truly merit it. Criticism should be expressed more often in sorrow than anger.

This is particularly important when tackling Blair, who lives very much in the moment. All that matters to him is that he passionately believes in a particular course of action at that moment. Whatever he has said in the past, with equal passion, can be disregarded if it happens to be inconsistent with his views of the moment.

Thus it is that he was able to stand on a platform of withdrawal from the EU in 1983, then become a fervent advocate of ever closer union, and now re-invent himself as a Euro-realist & reformer in the light of the French "non".

We cannot hope to match his ability to twist and turn, nor should we aspire to. Instead, calmly and cooly, we need clearly to explain what our position is, and how the Prime Minister's changes. Every so often his position will coincide with ours. When it does we need to recognise and welcome that.

This is a difficult, frustrating strategy which will only bear fruit in the long-term. Yet whilst Blair is in charge, it's the only option. If we remain clear calm and consistent, we will start to regain some reputation for competence.

The government has a tendency to come up with policy in the hoof - it's doing that at the moment with its anti-terror proposals. Potentially this could damage the government - but only as long as we get our response right.


Agree with Bruce Anderson's article.In my opinion there are two reasons Cooke (who I thought was a very poor Foreign Secretary) was far more successful than we are at negative debating.
1)We have a very bad tendency to make everything very personal.We attack the individual rather than the idea.This probably reached its zenith in the 'Tony Blair is a liar' spat during the last election campaign.We didn't attack or even elucidate what the lies (and there were many) were we just attacked him as an individual.It backfired spectactularly.
2).Tony Blair and his team are very adept at countering Tory criticism by often SEEMING to take the criticism on board and SEEMING to do something about it.Witness recent debates on immigration,the euro,common agriculteral policy,sacking civil servants etc,etc,etc.The fact that in reality little is done doesn't seem to matter because by the time this becomes apparant the issue is past.Words are certainly cheap with this government. They can get away with it because instead of consistently campaigning on broad themes we flit from issue to issue always seeking short term party political advantage.Whoever becomes leader will have to recognize that this strategy doesn't work!

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