It starts with the advisor. In the case of the Tories, it’s Andy Coulson.
Who he? Coulson was once editor of the News Of The World – until his departure, following the revelation that, on his watch, hacks had been engaging in acts of forthright criminality. This minor CV blemish has clearly not phased David Cameron. Well, not enough to put him off having Andy in his team.
How many stories do you get on the front page of a red-top tabloid? One. Sure, there may be teasers for other stuff, but there’s only one big story. As for the red-top, so for the Tory Approach. There’s only one story, one target, one person responsible for all our ills. Step forward Gordon Brown.
This, simply, is the substance of the Tory Approach. Revenue and Customs mailroom blunder? Brown personally responsible. Baby P? Brown bang to rights. Oil price hike? Brown to blame – heck, the man doesn’t even drive, so he’s doubly culpable.
Now, the idea that Brown is somehow a more calamitous presence than a cross between Frank Spencer and Jacques Clouseau may sound ridiculous. Indeed, it is ridiculous. But in a time when you’ve had a party in office for over a decade and the economy is turning down, hurling enough dirt may cause more and more of it to stick. And if the assault is continuous enough, voters may not have enough space between attacks to think. Tabloid editors know that it’s not a good thing to let the target audience think.
This coin, as you’d expect, has another side: perhaps, if Brown were not there to play the target, the Tory approach could be more easily countered? Change the leader, and all would be well. Perhaps it was this thought that emboldened Hattie Harperson, or, if the subsequent denials are to be believed, didn’t.
Or perhaps Hattie just suffered a personal disruption in the area of the Vanity-Reality Continuum.