A couple of hours ago, the Conservative Party’s response to the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party came thundering into my inbox.
There wasn’t, so far as I could see, any discrete text at all. Just one long, pre-prepared graphic, set in striking tones of black, white and the bright red, setting out the Tory case against the great red hope in the starkest possible terms.
Much as I was taught to do as a university debater, it boils down a surfeit of possible cases against the MP for Islington North into three linked, easily digestible points. To attempt to relay the sense of clarion urgency, I’m going to type in them in caps.
LABOUR’S NEW LEADER IS A THREAT TO:
- OUR NATIONAL SECURITY,
- OUR ECONOMIC SECURITY,
- AND YOUR FAMILY’S SECURITY.
There are two things that immediately leap out from this opening salvo.
The first is in the first line: note the target of attack. Not “Jeremy Corbyn”, a name with which the sort of person who subscribes to CCHQ’s email must surely be at least passingly familiar by now, but “Labour’s new leader”.
This is evidence of what Tim Montgomerie, our former editor, described in an article for CapX as “Operation Red Contagion”. He writes:
“One senior Cabinet minister told me this week that “any idiot” could convince the British people that Jeremy Corbyn was unfit to be prime minister and, in fact, the MP for Islington North would succeed in doing that himself. The challenge was to taint the whole Labour movement with his extreme views.”
CCHQ recognises, or at least believes, two things. First, that Corbyn is pretty much a self-defeating candidate. It will not take the full might of the well-honed Tory attack machine to make this darling of the far left look horrifying to voters of moderate opinion, the thinking goes, so why waste the resources?
Second, that these red days we live in may well be comparatively few in number, and that it would be complacent to build a strategy on the assumption that Corbyn will be leading Labour into the next election.
(Although given his thumping mandate and the challenge posed to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) by constituency reduction, the odds of a coup look longer than one might have expected.)
Instead, they want to exploit his leadership to tar the broader Labour movement with his various failings, and irradiate any Labour politicians who are forced to mount a defence.
Many of the party’s best and brightest – Chuka Umunna, Rachel Reeves, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall, Tristram Hunt, and others – have already retreated to the backbenches. If the prayed-for Blairite coup doesn’t materialise, they’ll have little option but to stay there.
This will leave Corbyn to piece together a second-rate Shadow Cabinet to face off against a well-oiled Conservative attack machine and strong front bench.
The damage that could be wrought on Labour’s reputation in the country by even a couple of years of such an imbalanced air war is enormous – just ask those Labour commentators who believe Ed Miliband was doomed once the Tories successfully framed Labour after the 2010 election.
The second point of note in the above sledgehammer is the word “security”.
It’s a familiar word to watchers of the Tory Party. In an article from January last year (titled simply ‘Security’) our editor, Paul Goodman, set out how the Party had placed that word and concept at the very heart of its strategy:
“Not so long ago, the big Conservative word was Freedom… But that has now changed. “The big word, the linking theme,” one Minister told me, “was Security”. The long Conservative election campaign takes as its starting-point the view that most voters primarily want greater security, rather than more freedom.”
This relentless focus on a core concept is a legacy of Lynton Crosby’s influence on the campaign, but there was a time when the vanilla version – ‘We’re on the right track, Labour are scary’ – didn’t really seem to be cutting through.
What turbo-charged it was when the party managed to link Miliband to the far-left posturing and poisonous nationalism of the SNP. ‘A weak Labour Party held to ransom by socialist splitters’ proved a much more potent combination, and seems to have tipped the balance in a significant number of vital seats.
Corbyn’s victory has given this strategy a whole new lease on life. If the looming threat of a Lab-Nat pact was scary before, how much more potent will it be after up to five years of the two parties supporting the same far-left agenda in the Commons?
The Tory strategy is very ambitious: they want to inflict on Labour the sort of profound brand destruction that the Conservatives suffered in the 1990s and are still recovering from today. They want to tie all of Corbyn’s baggage to Labour and break the automatic link in much of the public imagination between the Labour Party and good intentions.
Given the huge turnover in Labour’s membership and its fraying links with its old core vote, they may well succeed.
CCHQ’s missive ends with the sort of rallying cry you normally see directed at the Tories, rather than by the Tories: