Is the â€˜policy a dayâ€™ crowding Labour out of the spotlight?
If the purpose of a media campaign is to get noticed and get talked about, then the Cameron/NHS posters have been a remarkable success: from spoof versions going viral on the web to questions on Mock the Week to references by Gordon Brown in PMQâ€™s, the posters have gained attention way beyond most political campaigns.
One effect of not just the Tory NHS poster campaign but also the proposals for changes to the tax and benefits of married couples has been for the political debate over the last week to be dominated by what the Conservatives might do. Both sides seem comfortable for the contest to be – at least for the present – on that ground.
What all this has done is to push Labourâ€™s own successes and failings way down the pecking order, even more so when discussion turns to airbrushing or Tory policy on rewarding marriage rather than the deficit or the Broken Society theme. Itâ€™s quite remarkable that a government thatâ€™s been in place for so long and which has relatively poor poll ratings – and so ought to be an easy target – is getting so little attention from the other parties.
Itâ€™s a high-risk strategy from the Conservatives. On the one hand, the more flesh thatâ€™s put on the policy bones, and the more discussion there is of it, then the greater the mandate should Cameron lead the Tories to a majority.
On the other, itâ€™s providing the other parties with more and more targets to aim at, increasing the chances of a costly blunder and enabling the government to escape some of the scrutiny that theyâ€™d usually be under.
Perhaps the current focus on the Tories wonâ€™t matter as much now that a May election looks ever closer to a certainty (still 1/4 with Paddy Power), given Brownâ€˜s pending Chilcot appearance. The Conservatives surely couldnâ€™t stay centre stage even if both they and Labour wanted it? Both Brown and Blairâ€™s appearances at the Iraq enquiry will dominate their news cycles. For another thing, Alistair Darling canâ€™t credibly avoid holding a Budget before a May election unlike for a March 25 poll.
One key question to answer is to what extent Labour is complicit in the media narrative? Are they content to play off the back foot, to wait for the Tory announcements and to aim to knock them down as they come, or are they being actively shut out? That matters because of what it says about the respective sidesâ€™ media management skills and ability to control the agenda – and control of the agenda goes a long way towards winning the election.