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27 November 2008updated 07 Sep 2021 7:07am

Tactical Briefing

From: The Unit To: GB Subject: Beyond triangulation

By Jesse Armstrong

So, pretty good week. One of those weeks that definitely feels pretty good. Just hope it isn’t the sort of week that in subsequent years we will see in documentaries with sombre soundtracks and graphics which read “seeds of the collapse” or “the Budget that broke the nation”.

One charge that is being repeated by topical comedians and will probably finally penetrate the Tory imagination is that you are somehow “enjoying” the current situation. Think in challenging this there is a distinction to be made. People are comfortable with a Churchillian gusto about confronting the odds – a determined and resolute captain standing on the prow of his ship facing down the storm. It is another thing to see that man rubbing his hands together, dancing a jig and singing “Happy Times Are Here Again”. Or blowing a party hooter. Think it is the second perception we have to avoid. Best way to avoid this perception would for you to be careful about when and where you sing “Happy Times Are Here Again”.

On the Tories’ enthusiastic adoption of the “steady-as-she-goes-down” Herbert Hoover-Titanic approach to economic crisis management, think there is a very strong feeling at Tory HQ that George Osborne is like a man who late during a pub argument makes an outlandish claim (in this case, “Well I wouldn’t raise borrowing to get through a recession. No, no, seriously, I just bloody wouldn’t”) and finds that it sounds pleasing in the moment, but would rather not be reminded of it the morning after. Particularly not by the entire media.

Have to say that announcing tax cuts just feels so right. But similarly not cutting public services. We do finally seem to have squared the circle on this one. And perhaps reached a new paradigm by going beyond triangulation. The old model was to take two ideologically opposite policy options and offer a third which triangulated an electorally palatable position between the two. But the new and very exciting option is to take the two opposing policy notions and adopt them both! Lower taxes and higher public spending. This feels like the fresh conceptual leap that the electorate has been waiting for us to make for some time.

We have been thinking about similar ways out of tired old thinking as regards other policy areas. On immigration: we wonder if we couldn’t allay the public’s fears regarding population growth, terrorists and eastern Europeans taking over convenience stores with jars of cabbage and potato products, etc, by imposing a total ban on any new arrivals? But also, accrue the economic benefits associated with immigration by inviting in very large numbers of foreign workers? The solution to the potential apparent conflict between these two positions would be to account for the new arrivals not as migrants, but as an off-balance-sheet accounting figure – or a portion of human debt to be paid off in better times?

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