The Lib Dems haven't retoxified the Tories' brand - they did that all themselves

As long as the Tories are directing their fire at UKIP and trying to attract their core vote back, they will continue to remind everyone that they are the nasty party.

Oh dear, I think the normally inestimable (for a Tory) Tim Montgomerie has had a bit of a senior moment. Writing in the Times yesterday, Tim laid the blame for the news that voters believe the Tories would have been very much nastier if they were governing on their own firmly at the feet of the Lib Dems. Apparently a few jibes from Vince and a list of the things we’ve stopped them doing in government have recontaminated the Tory brand.

Now, while there may be an element of truth to this, and I’m pretty sure Tim is now on top of Ryan Coetzee’s Christmas card list, I’m afraid the real reason lies closer to home; The Tories have done it to themselves.

Partly this is because of an endless stream of Conservatives who keep telling the world in general how we in the Lib Dems stop them doing what they really want to do. Eric Pickles is especially good at this. Maybe he’s the portrait in the attic to Tim Montgomerie’s Dorian Gray?

But it’s more than that. It’s also because they then tell the world just what they’ve got in mind. It wasn’t the Lib Dems who persuaded Theresa 'safe hands' May to announce that she wanted to launch an immigration bill that would  "create a really hostile environment for illegal migrants", leading the Institute of Directors to declare in response "It is pure sophistry to manipulate immigration figures by shooing to the door highly-trained international students with MBAs to make way for unskilled migrants from the EU."

Nor was it the Lib Dems who ran the 'racist van’ posters. The Tories didn’t even bother to tell us that was happening. Nor did we suggest they should be using words like 'scroungers' and 'skivers'. And it’s not all one-way traffic on the jibes front either - is it Mr Shapps?

But of course, there is a reason why the Tories have reverted to type and started dishing out the tough talk. It’s not the Lib Dems they’re worried about. It’s UKIP. Which is presumably why their hug-a-hoodie oak tree logo has metamorphosed into a Union Jack Bouffant, circa Thatcher 1983. And as long as the Tories are directing their fire at UKIP and trying to attract their core vote back, they will continue to remind everyone that they are the nasty party.

Frankly, Tim, that’s a lot more of a problem for you than a few Vince Cable jokes.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Michael Gove, Theresa May and George Osborne listen to David Cameron speak at the Conservative conference in Manchester earlier this month. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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Jeremy Corbyn challenged by Labour MPs to sack Ken Livingstone from defence review

Former mayor of London criticised at PLP meeting over comments on 7 July bombings. 

After Jeremy Corbyn's decision to give Labour MPs a free vote over air strikes in Syria, tonight's Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) meeting was less fractious than it could have been. But one grandee was still moved to declare that the "ferocity" of the attacks on the leader made it the most "uplifting" he had attended.

Margaret Beckett, the former foreign secretary, told the meeting: "We cannot unite the party if the leader's office is determined to divide us." Several MPs said afterwards that many of those who shared Corbyn's opposition to air strikes believed he had mishandled the process by appealing to MPs over the heads of the shadow cabinet and then to members. David Winnick declared that those who favoured military action faced a "shakedown" and deselection by Momentum activists. "It is completely unacceptable. They are a party within a party," he said of the Corbyn-aligned group. The "huge applause" for Hilary Benn, who favours intervention, far outweighed that for the leader, I'm told. 

There was also loud agreement when Jack Dromey condemned Ken Livingstone for blaming Tony Blair's invasion of Iraq for the 7 July 2005 bombings. Along with Angela Smith MP, Dromey demanded that Livingstone be sacked as the co-chair of Labour's defence review. Significantly, Benn said aftewards that he agreed with every word Dromey had said. Corbyn's office has previously said that it is up to the NEC, not the leader, whether the former London mayor holds the position. In reference to 7 July, an aide repeated Corbyn's statement that he preferred to "remember the brilliant words Ken used after 7/7". 

As on previous occasions, MPs complained that the leader failed to answer the questions that were put to him. A shadow minister told me that he "dodged" one on whether he believed the UK should end air strikes against Isis in Iraq. In reference to Syria, a Corbyn aide said afterwards that "There was significant support for the leader. There was a wide debate, with people speaking on both sides of the arguments." After David Cameron's decision to call a vote on air strikes for Wednesday, leaving only a day for debate, the number of Labour MPs backing intervention is likely to fall. One shadow minister told me that as few as 40-50 may back the government, though most expect the total to be closer to the original figure of 99. 

At the end of another remarkable day in Labour's history, a Corbyn aide concluded: "It was always going to be a bumpy ride when you have a leader who was elected by a large number outside parliament but whose support in the PLP is quite limited. There are a small number who find it hard to come to terms with that result."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.