HenryG predicts that we’ll see the charity approach again
This week Ed Miliband caught David Cameron out over the reduction of support for 7,000 cancer patients. His questions and knowledge exploited one of the Prime Ministerâ€™s few weak-spots â€“his haziness over detail and desire to be a caring Conservative. The fact that these figures came from the charity MacMillan was crucial. It meant that it was very difficult for the Government to challenge and discredit the source either during the crossfire of PMQs or the subsequent media briefing.
MacMillan is of course a very popular charity with people taking part in fundraising cuppas up and down the land. Theyâ€™re trusted and loved. When Cameron replied the issue was a â€˜smokescreenâ€™ for Labour splits he crossed a line of political taste which I believe he swiftly regretted. Furthermore it seems that 30 cancer charities feel pretty much the same about the Governmentâ€™s Welfare Reform Bill which is not easily dismissed.
One of the things that you notice as a party in Opposition is how little support and research capacity there is available. Shorn of a civil service Labourâ€™s shadow ministers have often spoken in broad brush terms but lacked detail to what policy changes and spending cuts meaning for specific groups of people.
Meanwhile hundreds of organisations, charities and pressure groups produce reports and analysis on a weekly basis digging into the nooks and crannies of policy details. Many struggle to get more than a few column inchese.
If Labour draws from this pool once a week they could explode a story during Prime Ministers Question Time and unnerve David Cameron and Government on an emotive issue of detail.
The benefits of working closer with charities and campaigning organisations go beyond the 30 minute weekly joust. Whichever charity gets the plug will no doubt subsequently inform its tens of thousands of supporters that the Labour leader raised an issue they were concerned about. This in itself isnâ€™t to be sniffed at. It also makes Labour looks less isolated against a 2 party coalitionif it is supported on an issue by a well known independent charitable organisation. Crucially it begins to put Labour looks to be on the side of the victims of cuts and the Government as the perpetrators who donâ€™t know or care about the impact of their decisions. At times itâ€™ll be unfair. But that’s politics and it could well work.
This isn t just a strategy for PMQs either. The Telegraphâ€™s Peter Oborne wrote a highly perceptive piece on the Labour leaderâ€™s approach in April. He argued Ed Miliband â€˜is the master of interesta-group politics, one of the acknowledged keys to electoral victory in the 21st century: nobody at Westminster does this half as well.â€™ Oborne remarked that as Minister for the Third Sector, â€˜he had Britainâ€™s charities eating out of his handâ€™ and that ‘Miliband is hard at work bringing together every individual, organisation and quango that is disenchanted with the Cameron/Clegg coalition.’
It will be worth watching this closely in the coming months to see if this becomes a regular approach from Ed Miliband and the Labour team. It’s not without limitations, but in this climate of cuts Iâ€™m not at all sure how David Cameron can easily respond to it.
HenryG Manson Twitter @henrygmanson