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Tuesday 6 October 2009

Pre-Emptive Strike

The Party Conference season continues: this week is the Tories’ turn, and central Manchester has been suitably disrupted as a result. The area around Manchester Central (formerly G-Mex, originally Manchester Central) has been made one large secure zone, and mere mortals are being kept away.

So you might think that this week’s news headlines would be made by the Tories, but that idea was punctured yesterday afternoon by a call from Chancellor Alistair Darling for pay restraint, which would involve public sector workers on the kind of pay scales where there is generally more disposable income to hand.

So, was Darling’s timing deliberate? Yes, it was.

Why did he do it? Because he can.

So, just as the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the seventeenth Baronet, was making his bid for the next morning’s headlines with a proposal which may create more jobs, Darling pitched his intervention. There’s no rule that says you can’t go mischief making during opponents’ conferences, but it is generally not done. Why do it now? Any opportunity has to be taken by a party behind in the polls, and with a desire to keep hold of power.

The timing may indicate the return of Alastair Campbell – though probably not – or may have been orchestrated by Baron Mandelson of Indeterminate Guacamole. No Labour source will be telling: best keep the Tories guessing. Moreover, the workers affected by the call for restraint know full well that, even with a change in governing party next year, they’ll do no better.

Interestingly enough, as the Beeb’s Stephanie Flanders has pointed out this morning, the measure with the most potential to reduce Government spending was not Darling’s pay restraint, but Osborne’s upcoming commitment to raise the state pension age by a year. But it’s the effect of a governing party chucking the odd grenade into the room that can distract the media.

Especially if the contents of the grenade are previously unknown.

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