I like chess. There, I’ve said it. I’ve now played chess in a few different decades (I started very young!) I’ve finally admitted to my secret pleasure. I’m a bloody good chess player. I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders.
I’m also a proud geek. One step at a time eh?
Anyway, the reason I mention chess is that I was thinking about it this morning. The way to win chess is to control as much of the board as you can with your pieces…..
Stop, where are you going? No need to leave. Don’t panic, I promise I’m not going to give a lecture on how to play chess here. There is a point to this, I swear. Just bear with me. Now. Where was I? Ah yes!
…The way to win chess is to control as much of the board as possible. This sounds deceptively easy, but a lot of novice players really struggle to get the hang of this. They focus on a particular piece or a certain few squares or, even worse, the opponents pieces. What these novices need to master (and I’m very excited to tell you this because I get to use, in this blog, my first Jed Bartlett quote) is to “see the whole board”.
And that’s exactly what Cameron and Osborne don’t seem able to do. They’ve launched the Conservative general election campaign like they jotted it down on the back of some wrapping paper on boxing day.
To be fair, they probably put a tad more time into it than that. I mean Cameron had obviously tested his sound bites in a focus group – Pawn to C5 – and then they’ve produced all those billboard posters I’ve been hearing about (though none have made it to Newcastle yet) – Knight to D6 – and then they booked a press conference – Bishop to C7 there, with an eye to castling.
He throws out his tried and tested soundbites at his press conference but gets lots of awkward questions like, ooh I dunno, how are you going to cut the deficit then? So the presser is done after 6 questions with Dave flustered and rebutting his own statements. Then we find that Dave’s billboard pic has been airbrushed so that he looks like receding-hairline action-man.
Alistair Darling then counters with a detailed document taking Dave to town and has the temerity to answer all the questions he’s asked at his press conference (how dare he?!).
Dave gets ready to castle only to find the chancellor of the exchequer has cunningly brought his bishops out and is threatening check. Dave wasn’t watching the whole board (see what I did there?) He lacks strategic vision and ability. He gets a few soundbites which test well – and we all know he’s good at that – then delivers them as usual only to find that, in a general election campaign, the usually pliant media expect a wee bit more. Policy, ideas, costings, that sort of thing. Meat on the bare bones of his 10 second soundbite. And he’s been found distinctly wanting, as we leftist class-warriors, or Labour supporters if you prefer, have always said he would be. They can spend all the money they want on advertising (though I can’t say that’s been good value for money up to now), but if they don’t think things through, they’ll keep having the same issue. Over and over.
One thing the Labour leadership – Brown, Mandelson, Balls, Darling, et al – can do is think strategically. They have no choice. They can’t outspend the Conservatives with their lack of Belize millions, they can’t get the easy media ride that the Conservatives have had until now, so they have to outthink them and produce progressive policy to win voters. Whether they aim to win middle England or core voters, you can be certain Gordon Brown has the intellect to see the whole board.
But these are only the first salvos in the opening game. There are many weeks of move and counter-move and a long long way to get to the end-game.