“When Sir John speaks, others listen” mused Benedict “famous last words” Brogan at the bear pit that is Telegraph blogs yesterday. Former Prime Minister – and the last one to lead a majority Tory Government – “Shagger” Major had just spoken at a Press Gallery lunch. All the pundits made approving noises, and not only the likes of Brogan: Simon Hoggart at the deeply subversive Guardian also approved.
A not inconsiderably good speech. Oh yes
But there is an immediate problem with Brogan’s observation, and it is simply this: saying that “others listen” may be superficially true, but the reality is that for both his fellow Tories, and the press, most of what he said yesterday has gone in one ear and straight out the other. And while the Coalition harbours the likes of Iain Duncan Cough within its cabinet, the politics part is unlikely to change.
So what is it that is not being heard? Simples. Mostly it is about the one subject where Major could not persuade his increasingly fractious party to speak with one voice, and that subject is the EU. “The threat of a federal Europe is now deader than Jacob Marley” he told them. Give it a couple of days, and the same paper where Brogan has his berth will have forgotten such wise words.
He gave the Tories the hard word on appealing only to core voters: the only benefit this secured, he emphasised, was the wooden spoon. MPs and hacks churning out their hate campaigns aimed at foreigners, the unemployed, the disabled, followers of The Prophet, and those with the dubious pleasure of customer facing employment in public transport will soon chuck that in the bin.
Major very deliberately floated the idea of a windfall tax on the energy companies, instead of the price freeze pitched by Mil The Younger. This is not a new idea – Tone and Pa Broon hit suppliers with that one in the early days of the 1997 Government – but already it is either being ignored, or shouted down. He didn’t make the suggestion by accident. They would do well to listen.
But perhaps Major’s most severe pronouncement was on the appalling Duncan Cough: “IDS is trying to reform benefits. But unless he is lucky or a genius, which last time I looked was not true, he may get things wrong ... If he listens only to bean-counters and cheerleaders only concerned with abuse of the system, he will fail”. He was right, and once again, they won’t take a blind bit of notice.
No, all will soon revert to howling anti-Europeanism, cheering on of heavy-handed pursuit of illegal immigrants, NHS bashing, and talking up every utterance from the Tory fringe, all of which will ultimately alienate the very people who could produce a sufficiently broad coalition to get Young Dave into power on his own. And this will be appropriately reported by the sympathetic part of the Fourth Estate.
And then they wonder why the public thinks so little of them. No change there, then.