I’ve written for The Guardian’s Comment is free website about the election cancellation and its implications. Part of the article appears in the main newspaper but the whole text is republished below…
"Was it Black Saturday for Brown? Yellow Saturday? Or Ratner Saturday? The blogosphere has thrown up a huge variety of names to mark the day on which Brown threw away his reputation for strength and seriousness. For me, the Ratner adjective gets closest to what happened. The Prime Minister trashed his own brand – cannibalising years of hard work in which he had tried to persuade the British people that, although dull, he was a responsible patriot who always put country before party. Yesterday, as he answered Andrew Marr’s rather feeble questions, he looked a hugely diminished figure. Did he really expect people to believe that the deteriorating opinion polls weren’t the real reason he was abandoning his very advanced plans for an autumn election? As David Cameron said, Brown was treating the British people as if they were fools.
If the last few weeks have been a terrible Alexander-Balls-up for Brown, they have been the making of David Cameron. Even a week ago Conservative MPs were talking privately about the next Conservative leadership race. The morale of many Tory MPs neatly tracks the party’s opinion poll rating and last week’s 11% leads for Labour had brought about a return of the parliamentary party’s ‘Messiah complex’. ‘Who will save us?’ was their cry. David Cameron saved them.
For nearly two years the Conservative leader had been following an unbalanced strategy. He had attempted to change the Conservative Party’s base when he should have been trying to broaden it. He had neglected the concerns of core supporters. Key electoral weapons – on tax, immigration and crime – had been taken out of use by those now famous über-modernisers. The opinion polls showed that the strategy wasn’t succeeding. Morale of activists was at rock bottom. The Telegraph and Mail were constantly publishing pieces that were unhelpful to the Conservative leadership. If Brown had held a genuinely snap election – in, say, September – he would have won a decisive victory.
But Mr Brown dithered and the Tories had time to plot a fight back. The fight back began experimentally with a heavy emphasis on crime in late August. That produced a opinion poll boost. It was also a confirmation of the Conservative HQ theory that the Conservatives do well whenever David Cameron is in the news.
For the last week David Cameron has been constantly in the news and Brown’s election scheme served to unite the party, rather than panic it. There was universal and genuine anger amongst Tory members at the cynical way in which Brown used British troops for last Tuesday’s photo opportunity. Cameron repaid this new spirit of party unity by announcing cuts in taxation, serious welfare reform and new legal powers to stop any further flow of powers to Brussels. He did all of this whilst maintaining the majority of his modernisation measures. It’s true that much of the Gummer-Goldsmith plan to unilaterally save the planet has been ditched but Cameron will defend and deepen other changes. On candidate diversity, gay rights, commitment to the public services and, above all else, a new one nation emphasis on fighting poverty, David Cameron is clearly a very different and more mainstream politician than Michael Howard.
The only cloud on the Tory horizon is that Britain’s third party, languishing on just 11% in one opinion poll, now has the time and opportunity to replace Menzies Campbell. In our bleaker moments of recent times, we’ve been able to draw consolation from our strength in southern contests against the Liberal Democrats. It will now be interesting to see if Mr Campbell falls on his sword or whether Teams Clegg and Huhne will show the kind of courage that the Prime Minister so clearly lacks."
The other two CiF posts highlighted by The Guardian were one from Lance Price urging Gordon Brown to escape from Tony Blair’s shadow and another from Martin Kettle calling for more strategy and less tactics from the Prime Minister.