In praise of ConservativeHome

by Stephen Tall on January 15, 2009

Yes, you did indeed read the headline right. To be more specific, I write in praise of Andrew Lilico’s grown-up article today on ConservativeHome’s CentreRight platform, Ridiculous assault or legimitate spin over “green shoots”? which invites readers to

Imagine a Conservative government minister involved in the following exchange:

Interviewer: “When will we see the green shoots of recovery?”
Minister: “…I wouldn’t want to be the one predicting it. I am seeing a few green shoots, but it’s a little bit too early to say exactly how they’ll grow.”

Now imagine that the Opposition and press attacked this minister for the “insensitive” and “offensive” nature of her remarks, accusing her of living in a “parallel universe”. What would we say?

And then concludes:

… we might concede that the Conservative minister in question was mistaken, perhaps even seriously mistaken or even misguided. But if she just reflected the government’s current forecasting stance, we could hardly attack the minister for her expressing the government’s line – except in the sense of saying that we vigorously disagreed.

Should we offer less courtesy, less dismissing of blatant journalistic or Opposition distortion, just because the minister in question comes from the Labour Party? Perhaps we think that distortion is okay if we do it but not if they do it? Or maybe it’s the Opposition’s job to spin the statements of the government against it and the government’s job to defend itself? Could it be that we should “aspire to be a bit better than that” (if that phrase means anything)?

Andrew was writing in response to Conservative shadow chancellor George Osborne’s knee-jerk response to business minister Baroness Vadera’s ‘economic green shoots’ comments. George declared with ringing certainty:

For a Labour minister to be talking about the green shoots of recovery on a day when thousands of people are losing their jobs is not only unbelievably insensitive, but it does beg the question on what planet is this Labour government living? Certainly not Britain in 2009.”

And before the massed-ranks of the George Osborne Fan Club (sic) point out the obvious, yes, it’s true, Lib Dems also joined in the derision of the noble Baroness: Lib Dem shadow chancellor Vince Cable reckoned she was “clearly living in a parallel universe”, while shadow business secretary John Thurso declared her comments “irresponsibly premature”.

To be fair to them all, I imagine they were read an abbreviated transcript of Baroness Vadera’s comments by a journalist, and invited to put the boot in. But Andrew is quite right to invite politicians of all parties to think before they speak, to try and elevate our public discourse, our national debate.

The trouble for George is that he has form. While Vince has earned enormous respect among the media and his opponents for his economic foresight, what has seen him celebrated as an unlikely political pin-up is the gentle, strategic precision of his remarks: he apportions credit and blame in a way that is seen to be sincere, accurate and fair.

George, though, gives every appearance of relishing putting the boot in, of taking a child-like glee in delivering the ultimate put-down, whenever the opportunity presents itself. For example, just a few weeks ago he was only too delighted to pray in aid the German Finance Minister, Peer Steinbrück, for describing the UK’s economic stimulus package as “crass” and “depressing” at exactly the same time as such siren voices as The Economist were pleading with the German government urgently to adopt a much bigger fiscal stimulus.

It’s ironic that George Osborne – who so ferociously criticises Gordon Brown for being all about spin and tactics – should turn out to be guilty of exactly the same faults.