Gordon Brown’s big Labour conference speech was described simultaneously (and by the same people) as absolutely awful and the best he has ever made. A group of viewers were given devices which allowed them to record their reactions to the speech phrase by phrase. The clearest adverse reactions were to the passages in which Brown attacked his rivals and enemies, both those within his party and outside it.
To non-politicians, this is obvious. People react best to positive messages, and if you can only convey your own position by running down other people, you betray the weakness of your own arguments. The only exception to this is when the attacks are extremely clever and preferably witty – Vince Cable’s “Stalin to Mr Bean” attack won reactions which were entirely positive except to its target. For the most part, political attacks are dull bludgeons not witty stilettos, and damage the giver at least as much as the subject of the attack.
This is emphasised if you move down from the big beasts of the political jungle to the worms and creepy-crawlies of local politics. John Tanner of Oxford’s ruling Labour Group is a good example. He has the same clunky, leaden style as Gordon Brown, the same commitment to a socialism which benefits no-one, and was once quoted as saying that everything he says or does is political, which must have made his love-life truly scintillating. Unlike Gordon Brown, he lacks a brain – most old-style socialists have chips on their shoulders over some perceived deprivation of their childhood, and where most recall the holes in their shoes or the bread-and-dripping for tea, Tanner seems to have been driven by his lack of any thinking apparatus.
Oxford City Council imposed a new scheme of rubbish collections in late 2006. As with other councils, this was driven by EU requirements which DEFRA, the relevant Government department, bogged up in the way that DEFRA bogs up most things. The Oxford plans were originally devised under the then-incumbent Labour Group, but were implemented under a new Lib Dem council. They were not popular, as was the case everywhere else, mainly because their actual execution, and the accompanying information campaign, was the responsibility of that inept sub-species, the Oxford City council officer.
In May of this year, as Labour fell everywhere else, the Oxford voter in his wisdom restored the Labour Group. Out went the intelligent Jean Fooks as rubbish supremo, and in came John Tanner. He has just announced changes to the collection days, and could not resist saying “at the moment, we have got a higgledy-piggledy mess that we inherited from the previous Liberal Democrat council, with lorries moving across the city in a very inefficient way.”
Even John Tanner is not so thick as to believe that the collection rotas were devised by the Lib Dem councillors. They would have taken advice from the officers – it is one of those paradoxes of local government that we employ the sweepings off the employment market’s floor but then have to take their advice. In any event, it is hardly surprising that a council should review a new rota after two years and make adjustments borne of experience.
Politicians affect surprise and concern that they are so despised by those whom they govern. Much of that contempt derives from the continual sniping at a political level. Oxford’s Labour Group was deliberately unhelpful as the new system – which, as I say, they approved when in office – was rolled out in 2006. Politically, the way they undermined their Lib Dem successors is doubtless seem as a success – the new rubbish arrangements undoubtedly contributed to the Lib Dems’ loss of control two years later. Tanner’s attack on the Lib Dems do nothing for the city, its residents, businesses and visitors. As with Gordon Brown, all we see is a ghastly little man making political points.