It’s inconsistent. It’s unworkable. It’s soulless. It’s Michael Howard again

See BBC NEWS | Politics | Howard calls for refugee quotas

I have to say I was knocked over by Michael Howard’s latest policy. If the Tories were to win the next election (just so it’s clear we are deep into hypothetical territory), they would set a quota of 20,000 or so refugees a year that the UK would take.

Yes, this is the same Michael Howard whose own family fled from Romania to Wales as refugees in 1939. And it comes despite a promise from shadow chancellor Oliver Letwin that Tory plans would not include a cap on refugees.

20,000 may seem a respectably high figure. It’s more than we currently accept. But, of course, our current figures – we accept about half the proportion that France does – are artificially low after a wave of anti-asylum hysteria led in equal parts by Labour, the Tories and the media.

The notion is, of course, unworkable. If we can’t manage quotas in any other area of public life, how are we going to manage them in this one. We don’t know how many refugees are trying to get into Britain. We don’t have any control over who declares themselves for asylum and who is simply plugged straight into the sweat shops and the sex trade (although under Howard’s Way there would certainly be many more). We don’t control the routes by which they come in. In fact, we don’t even understand the routes, since we have closed off all legal routes for asylum seekers to enter Britain.

It’s also completely soulless. Are we really going to tell someone who has been tortured, raped, has seen their children slaughtered in front of their eyes and has paid every penny they have to get out of their mother-land which they love – are we really going to tell this person ‘Sorry, you are number 20,001 and therefore Britain is full.’

Michael, just stop it, ok? You have established your right wing credentials. At least now try to inject some common sense.

The only real winners from the quota proposal are the people traffickers. The vulnerable are their easiest prey. And we – if Michael Howard gets his way – will be making that prey a lot easier.

‘Tories ready for power’ – but they haven’t found the fuse box

See: BBC NEWS | Politics | Howard: ‘Tories ready for power’

The Tories are ready for power, says Michael Howard. This of course is a truism. The Tories are always ready for power. Any power, any little thing that anyone wants to give them. But right now they don’t seem to be able to find the fuse box. In fact, they don’t even seem to be able to find the batteries.

Being ready for power is not the same as having a programme that will take you there, and, one year on from his leadership coup, Michael Howard still doesn’t have a plan that is different from the old plan. It’s perhaps just a coincidence that this is also the anniversary of the National Lottery – now the only thing for which the last Tory government is remembered. The Conservatives rolled the dice by getting rid of Iain Duncan Smith, but they might as well have picked a number out of the air.

One of the most fundamental rules of any kind of PR is that you never believe your own spin. You stay focussed on your goal, under-promise and over-deliver, and then let the surprised onlookers praise you while you smile in a British-sort-of-way and say ‘just doing my job’.

Michael Howard’s grasp of PR is clearly shaky. His party have produced a two-page dossier on his year one achievements. Successes in European elections, improved party finances, new offices, a new campaign director, and greater diversity among candidates. New Offices? They might as well have printed that they had ordered new deck-chairs for the Titanic. Success in Europe? Perhaps – but accompanied by the spectre of UKIP rising to challenge them in every constituency across the country. And if UKIP take an average 15% of the vote, or if they halve the Tory vote as they did in Hartlepool, then suddenly even the safest Tory seats are looking unsafe. A new campaign director? Is this seriously an achievement? And greater diversity among candidates. Hardly something which appeals to their core voters, who effectively prevented their first black MP from being elected when they squabbled over John Taylor in Cheltenham. How quickly we forget.

Publishing a dossier is an act of desperation. Self-praise never makes for good PR. And the spin machine of Labour quickly produced its own nine page dossier highlighting his failings.

But the greatest failing of Michael Howard does not need a dossier. It just needs a sentence. In a time of intense disillusionment with the government, the Tories have not improved their poll position at all during Michael Howard’s leadership. Nothing more needs to be said. We don’t need to question Howard’s conviction or consistency, as Alan Milburn has tried to. We don’t have to question his judgment. We just have to look at his results.

Yes Michael, you may think you are ready for power, but the lights are still off and nobody is home.

No, no, no, no, no, Mr Howard

By their very nature, Conservatives look back to the good old days. Since the glory days of Margaret Thatcher, there hasn’t been a great deal to look back to. But probably the Tories’ finest subsequent moment was the 1999 European campaign message ‘In Europe but not run by Europe’. Ever since then, they have been trying to find a soundbite to rival it.

So Michael Howard must have thought he was really on a winner when he came up with “Countries have constitutions and I do not want to be part of a country called Europe.” Well, was he?

The The Advertising Standards Authority did some research a couple of years ago into what makes advertising messages really work. Looking at the most successful advertisements across the entire industry, they came up with three things.

First, the messages that worked were informative – and of course, accurate. Second – and this only worked if the first was fulfilled – the messages that worked were clever. And third – and this only worked if the first two were fulfilled – the messages that worked entered popular culture. Winning messages are things like ‘Ronseal – it does exactly what it says on the tin’ and ‘Carlsberg don’t make room-mates, but if they did they would probably be the finest room-mates in the world’.

So how well does Michael Howard’s sound-bite do? In reverse order, it hasn’t exactly entered the popular culture. “In Europe not run by Europe” caught the public imagination. Nobody but Michael Howard and his cronies ever say “Countries have constitutions and I do not want to be part of a country called Europe.”

But, of course, this is less important than the question ‘is it clever?’ Well, not exactly. Not in the same league as the red billboards that say “You can so tell the people who like don’t read the Economist”. It doesn’t quite have that ring to it.

But, again of course, this is trivial compared to the question ‘is it informative and accurate?’


No, no, no, no, no, Mr Howard. Clubs have constitutions. Baptist churches have constitutions. The Liberal Democrat party has a constitution. The Labour party has a constitution. Interestingly, the Conservative Party does not have a constitution. Oh yes, and Great Britain doesn’t have a constitution either. At least, not a written one.

But now, of course, the European Union does have a constitution – signed today, by every one of the Union’s member nations. It has yet to be ratified, but it has been signed.

It’s probably a good thing that political party messages are not governed by the Advertising Standards Authority code.

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