One of the techniques that horror writers employ to make their novels as frightening as possible is to avoid describing their monster in any great detail. Read Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, and by and large it will be your own imagination filling in the details of Victor Frankenstein’s creation as the creature lumbers out of its inventor’s room and into the streets of Ingolstadt. Our imaginations frighten us far more than authors can.
The same elision is at work in politics, except the authors aren’t doing themselves any favours. The Tories have a habit of staying very quiet indeed on a social problem, whether it be payday loans or something else awkward, until the issue becomes too big to ignore, and then they U-turn. The effect of this prolonged silence where the party fails to make the case for what it believes is that the imagination fills the gaps about what the Nasty Tories might think about something. And if the imagination isn’t doing it, Labour will fill in those gaps with its own assertions about what the Tories think.
Of course, one reason the Tories aren’t shouting about what they think from the beginning of a row is that they are struggling to have the courage of their convictions, and I explore this problem in my Telegraph column today, as well as placing a bet on what the next U-turn might be. But this morning there has been another strange move by the government – to ask energy companies to freeze their prices until after the 2015 general election. The details of this Coalition price freeze are different to Labour’s big price freeze that has continued to cause trouble all autumn. It is a voluntary agreement based on wholesale prices remaining stable and is an exchange for work on the ‘green crap’ in the autumn statement. But it is close enough to what Labour has been planning to make the Tories appear as though they are dancing to their opponents’ tune.
This has been a bad week for dancing to someone else’s tune: Westminster has woken every day to a Kafkaesque transformation in the Conservative party to one that believes in capping payday loan charges and talking in a Labour-y sort of way about markets, statist policies on cigarette packaging, and now meddling with the energy market. But the sheer volume of U-turns suggests that this is an intentional week of taking the trash out before a cheerier Autumn Statement. James sketches out what we can expect next Thursday in his politics column this week, but it’s probably fair to say that most Conservatives would like this week of policy gothic horror to be over before anything else confusing happens.