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31 January 2018updated 28 Jun 2021 4:40am

The Conservatives’ lack of strategy is highlighted in their reaction to Claire Kober quitting

The leader of Haringey Council will not stand for re-election in May.

By Stephen Bush

Today Haringey, tomorrow the world? The leader of Haringey Council, Claire Kober, has quit her post and will not stand for re-election in May, and the story makes most of the national papers. (The Conservative party is also going hard on the story on Twitter and, more importantly, Facebook.)

I don’t want to dwell too long on what has happened in Haringey because I’ve written about it before. The short version is: while you can’t understand events in Haringey without some reference to the wider changes in Labour since 2015, you also can’t understand it without reference to the Council’s proposed regeneration scheme – just as you can’t understand, say, the Richmond by-election without some reference to local opposition to Heathrow and to Brexit. Drawing conclusions about what is going to happen as far as Labour’s inner life is a bit like drawing conclusions about the ability of Brexit to win seats for Liberal Democrats across the country.

The more interesting thing is the Conservative reaction, which highlights a bigger problem for that party: which is that they have no clear message or strategic argument. Say what you like about them, under David Cameron and George Osborne the big message that the cuts were necessary and that only they would take the big decisions needed to get Britain back into the black was repeated, time and again, through both big government events, and media appearances by government ministers to activists on Twitter. Journalists got bored of the words “long-term economic plan” but it did, at least, succeed in cutting through.

What’s the big argument that the Conservatives want to have with Labour at the next election? They’re quite good at leaping on whatever happens to be big in the news that day, but, however one might wish it were otherwise, voters simply don’t care about Momentum, Labour’s NEC or when Jeremy Corbyn last appeared on PressTV.

The Tory problem partly flows from their leadership problem: they can’t prosecute a big argument about what the next election should be about under their current leader. The parliamentary arithmetic means they can’t really do anything requiring controversial legislation and Brexit saps the organisational ability of the civil service to do anything big, either.

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Their hope is that when the new leader comes in they will impose some kind of strategic vision and direction that gives them a narrative and a purpose that allows them to regain their majority next time. Labour’s campaign surge does show that, if you do almost everything right and your opponent does almost everything wrong, big changes can happen even at the eleventh hour. But they’re betting an awful lot that Labour’s next election campaign will make as many mistakes as May’s did.

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