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The Coalition cannot defeat the incompetence narrative. They must find a superior story for the government.

Tim Montgomerie

As discussed on Monday, the Labour leadership has decided to attempt to destroy the Coalition by painting it as incompetent.

It is a good tactic and Downing Street is aware that it is potentially deadly.

Labour watch inexperienced ministers undertaking a huge number of radical reforms at a time when budgets are squeezed, when many ministers have no political support because of the draconian cap on SpAds and when the civil service is not the Rolls Royce operation it once was.

The Coalition can do things to address this attack (most importantly by focusing limited resources on the absolutely necessary reforms - economic competitiveness, welfare reform, modernising education and immigration control - and jettisoning or delaying the distracting reforms - reorganising the NHS and HiSpeed rail) but they must also realise that the only sure way of beating the narrative of incompetence is to install a superior narrative.

Even a modestly reforming government is too big to avoid generating stories that can feed an incompetence narrative. The size and openness of modern government will give plently of ammunition to a 24/7 media industry that determines to report evidence of government ineptitude.

Hague FCOMy Exhibit A is the Libya crisis. I'm not going to pretend that the Foreign Office hasn't made mistakes. It has. But the coverage has been completely disproportionate. Wednesday's media excitement at William Hague's absence from PMQs was typical. Bloggers, twitterers and 24 hour TV news excitedly asked 'What does this mean?'. 'Could Hague be in meltdown?' Actually, the Foreign Secretary was briefing the Queen. William Hague is working seven days a week at the moment, trying to respond to the most dramatic international events since 1989. He hasn't lost the confidence of Cameron. Hague, Osborne and the PM held a private dinner on Monday night where the three men plotted next steps. All my best sources are saying the same. In many ways we can be very proud of our government's response. After a terrible 12 hours of false starts we've successfully evacuated Britons and other nationals from Libya. We've led at the UN on imposing financial and other sanctions on Gaddafi. In a bold move, Cameron was the first western leader to go to post-Mubarak Egypt and the first world leader to make a big foreign policy speech, reflecting on the new world that is emerging.

Some readers will agree with my last paragraph. Many will not. My point is that once the national conversation gets lost in the weeds of examining every aspect of government activity, the government is in trouble. Voters will feel loyal to a government - and overlook its inevitable failings - if it feels it has a compelling understanding of the problems they face and has a plan to help them overcome those problems. The absence of a compelling narrative remains David Cameron's biggest problem. What, other than cuts, is the government trying to do? The component parts of the Coalition programme are good but where is the super narrative?

For me it's national survival. If Britain doesn't pay off our debts the best of the next generation will leave these shores for nations that aren't burdened by impossible levels of debt repayments and taxes. If we don't turn our schools into world class institutions we won't have the workforce that can deliver prosperity. If we don't reform welfare we'll have a society where young people stop believing that doing the right thing is worthwhile. Those three messages would underpin my super narrative and Downing Street's job is to bring them alive.


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