Sunday, February 17, 2008


On 'Narratives' in Politics

We hear quite a bit about 'narratives' in politics these days and I sometimes wonder what is being described. I suppose it's a variation on the idea, expressed I think by Churchill, that the voters 'needed a tune to hum'. Maybe voters respond if they are told 'stories' of some kind. If we look at the article by Andrew Rawnsley today we find he talks of Gordon Brown selecting 'the opportunity revolution' as the theme which could prove to be a winning 'narrative'. Voters will be provided- so the argument runs, with a series of angles on unlocking talent in the national community. Maybe this would do the trick, though it seems a bit thin to me.

Another aspect of this is that parties need negative narratives about the opposing party. Cameron, thanks to the shortcomings of Labour since last August, has 'incompetent government led by PM not up to job'; this has taken Conservatives quite some way already and still has loads of potential. Elsewhere Rawnsley judges Cameron continues to make Blair's career his template for success. As for Labour, they have only 'Tory toff basically defends toffs' interests'; a nicely atavistic story for the party but is it one voters will eventually swallow? I'm not so sure.

But current evidence suggests Tories need a better story. At the equivalent stage in his career, during the nineties, Blair led by nearly 50% in the polls. While Cameron basked in double figures before Christmas, he has had to watch his lead shrink to under 10 points: good but not enough to see off Labour in 2009-10. The Economist offers an analysis from which the government can take some comfort. The journal suggests Labour has stopped the rot basically through(shock horror) good government:

Gordon Brown has drafted promising young ministers into his cabinet and strengthened his own back-room team with a new chief of staff and head of communications. And by embracing public-service reforms about which he used to sound ambiguous (he made a bold speech in favour of health-care reform in January), he has begun to give his government the sense of direction it lacked. Mishaps over tax policy have not yet dragged him seriously off course.

Now a bit more of this and Brown might well have a narrative which will keep him in power.

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