Saturday, July 08, 2006

Living in the Shadows

When Labour came to power in 1997 although they had been out of office for 18 years they had a front bench team containing some real heavyweight politicians (no, not just you, John). Whether you liked or loathed people like David Blunkett, Jack Straw, Gordon Brown, Peter Mandelson, Robin Cook, Clare Short, John Prescott, Mo Mowlam, and to a lesser extent Harriet Harman, Jack Cunningham and Margaret Beckett, they were at least politicians that people could recognise and even if they hated them, they knew they hated them and why.

The Tories have now been in the wilderness for nearly 10 years. Try naming more than half a dozen members of Cameron's Shadow Cabinet. If you can, I suspect you are a hopeless political junkie and you might need to think about getting out more. I tried this out on a group of USDAW Shop Stewards I was talking to last week. Out of the seven Stewards six of them named the boy Hague (a failed Tory Leader), four said Ken Clarke (a failed Leadership candidate and not actually in the Shadow Cabinet) and there were 3 suggestions each for David Davis (a failed Leadership candidate), Michael Howard (a failed Leader and not in the Shadow Cabinet) Liam Fox (a failed Leadership candidate) and Boris Johnson. Only one person got a member of the Shadow Cabinet and their portfolio correct (Hague & Shadow Foreign Secretary). So those that were known, were known for being failures, or in Boris's case for being funny on TV.

My point is that this Tory front bench is woeful. No personality, precious little public profile, and seemingly making no impression on people whatsoever. They are not even well known enough to be loathed. These USDAW Stewards were not apolitical people, and I would guess they were ahead of the average voter on these things. Now, this may be because the Tories need to establish Cameron, and therefore the Shadow Cabinet have been pushed into the errm... shadows. To return to the point about Blair's 1997 Cabinet though... Blair in 1995-97 was promoted as the front man, but I got the impression that people as a whole thought he had a competent team around him. I suspect if you try the above exercise on a few people down the pub you will not get the same response about this anonymous bunch. Just ask someone who the Shadow Cabinet member is for Culture, Media and Sport or what they have done in opposition to Tessa Jowell during her last difficult year. Ask them if they have ever heard of Peter Ainsworth (I have to admit, I haven't), or Philip Hammond, or do they know what David Mundell, Cheryl Gillian or Oliver Heald do for a living? Whilst Health has been a political minefield for Patricia Hewitt over the last six months or so... what has Andrew Lansley been doing with his daytime hours?

Cameron must be thinking of that famous quote attributed to the Duke of Wellington... "They may not scare the enemy, but by God they scare me." Or that brilliant Private Eye cover showing Nixon saying, "At least no-one is goint to try to assasinate me with Spiro T. Agnew as VP."