The Conservatives’ increasingly risible attempts to pin the Co-Op scandal on Labour carry the whiff of political desperation. Labour’s poll lead is growing, not shrinking. Few voters know or care about the Falkirk furore. Growth has returned, but Ed Miliband’s success in shifting the debate towards living standards means the Tories have not benefited. “What do we have to do to beat them?” is the question Conservative MPs are asking.
This sense of incredulity was well captured in a much-read column by the Telegraph’s Benedict Brogan this week. “How can it be,” he wrote, “that a party widely blamed for the nation’s ills – let alone one led by a politician who commands so little public respect – is in a position to measure the curtains for Downing Street? Soundly rejected, only to be welcomed back a term later: if it came to pass, a Labour win would deserve an award for most unlikely political comeback.”
In these circumstances, the Tories greeted the Paul Flowers scandal as a drowning man greets a life raft. But it is likely to do them no good. The links between Flowers and Miliband and Balls (unlike those between David Cameron and those Miliband said he couldn’t “talk about”) are far too tangential to do Labour any harm. (Balls has never met him and Miliband held one meeting with him.) The Tories have produced no evidence to support their suggestion that either had any knowledge of Flowers’s misdemeanours. The net result of the affair is only likely to be an increase in public loathing of politics in general. By obsessing over Flowers (“a clearly troubled individual,” as Douglas Carswell says), the Tories only reinforce the impression that they have nothing useful to offer.