Entry from February 13, 2013

Things are in a bad way for British Conservatives, apparently. Here’s what Jake Wallis Simons, blogging for the Daily Telegraph writes about their plight after a series of failures, U-turns and broken promises partly provoked by opposition from their Liberal Democrat coalition partners:

The overriding impression seems to be that this is a government which announces something, or promises something, or tries to implement something, or says it believes in something, safe in the knowledge that these are mere words. It is as if they are still in the mentality of opposition, three years on. Meanwhile, voters are being pushed into deep cynicism, an attitude of “I’ll believe it when I see it.” There are few things that will be more damaging than this in an election. Campaigns are built on the ability to put across a credible vision, and a plan for change which the electorate can believe in; the Conservatives are handing Labour free attack lines on a weekly basis, all of which will be saved under Favourites with a gimlet eye on the ballot box. With the government falling over itself to bamboozle its own policies and pledges, the Tories will stand no chance in 2015.

It is apparently only coincidental that he wrote on the same day as President Obama’s State of the Union address, but there was a heck of a reminder that “mere words” detached from political and economic reality may be good enough to get you re-elected in this age of post-modern politics.

The President shamelessly proposed a laundry-list of measures that he cannot but have known stood no chance whatsoever of passage through the Republican House of Representatives — or even, in many cases, the Democratically-controlled Senate — and then he cheekily added that “nothing I’m proposing tonight should increase our deficit by a single dime.” Well, if you can believe that measures like raising the minimum wage by nearly 25 per cent in a time of high unemployment, providing pre-school education to everybody, bringing in more green energy boondoggles and passing the cap and trade legislation he couldn’t pass when he had congressional majorities — if you can believe that all these constitute a feasible political program, then presumably you can also believe that none of it will add to the deficit.

Yet it’s not that people have learned, like the White Queen in Alice in Wonderland, to believe six impossible things before breakfast; it’s that they have been liberated by the media’s Wonderland-worthy coverage of this President from feeling that they need to believe anything at all anymore. Believing stuff is so old-politics. The new kind of politics is no longer rational but aspirational, a matter of rhetorical posturing rather than actually doing anything. The only thing the President really intends to do — and this he will do for as long as possible — to save the country and himself from having to face fiscal reality — to which, having been taught by the likes of Paul Krugman, he gives the derisory name of “austerity.” As Richard Stevenson of The New York Times put it, he “will be judged in part on his success in changing the austerity narrative.” In other words, his job as President is now seen not as passing or enforcing laws but changing “narratives.” At that, unlike the legal business, he’s actually pretty good, though of course he has the whole-hearted assistance of the media.

As it happens, if the Tories really “stand no chance in 2015” — which is when the next general election is due to be held — it is much less likely to be on account of a deserved reputation for political failure than an undeserved reputation for political success in imposing their own “austerity” measures on the British economy — measures which the opposition can persuasively argue are not “working” in the Paul Krugman sense. In fact, the coalition’s fiscal policies only look austere in comparison with those of their profligate predecessors in Gordon Brown’s Labour government. That Labour is now twelve points ahead of the Tories in the polls suggests that they have been as successful as the Democrats in this country at “changing the austerity narrative” — and they have probably had as much help from the media too.

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