Saturday, 4 April 2015

Lynton Crosby leading the Tories off the edge of the cliff

I was speaking to an economist who works for a large financial organisation in the pub during the week. I happened to ask him what he thought would be the best possible outcome for the UK in the forthcoming election. His response was interesting. He said that as a human being with a family, an outright Labour victory would be the only outcome that would be likely to benefit him and the vast majority of citizens of the UK, but in terms of the UK economy and the economic health of the country, undoubtedly the best outcome would be exactly the same outcome as the last election - ie  a strong coalition between the Tories and the Lib Dems.

I asked him to explain and he said it was quite simple. In economic terms, even though the economy is likely to do less well under Labour, the vast majority of people benefit more. The big losers are those at the very top, who have been the beneficiaries of the current economic boom. They have seen a massive increase in wealth as share dividends, exective salaries and bonus and executive pay has mushroomed. In the UK the top 25% own 90% of the wealth and these have been the main beneficiaries of the economic improvement.

As for the economy, he said that only a Tory/Lib Dem coalition would offer the continuity necessary for business to flourish and grow. My friend observed that both a Tory/LibDem coalition and a Labour victory would not result in a UK withdrawal from the EU. If the UK moves towards a referendum or outright withdrawal this would cause massive uncertainty amongst foreign investors and there is no way this won't have a huge economic downside. Whatever view you may have of the EU, the Scottish referendum showed exactly what business thinks of such splits. The EU would be a far more devastaing issue for foreign investors and it is plain dishonest to pretend otherwise.

So basically from a Labour perspective, their campaign message is simple. They need to get the message out to ordinary people that if they want to have more money in their wallet, they simply need to vote Labour. For the Tories there is a conundrum. Firstly, half of the party hates the EU so their biggest selling point, economic stability through continued EU membership is not something they can afford to boast about. The second problem they have is that they cannot boast too much about their record in power as this makes the case for coalition government and despite the relative success of the coalition, they cannot claim the success. Even more difficult is that the few coalition policies which have really affected people in the middle in a positive way are Lib Dem initiatives, such as raising the tax thresholds. The Tory headline policies such as cutting the top rate of tax for millionaires is not exactly a major vote winner with the middle classes.

The biggest problem the Tories have got is the fact that they have employed Lynton Crosby as their chief campaign strategist. Crosby is a hard nosed Australian who believes that you win elections by destroying the credibility of your opponents. He is a specialist in attack dog politics and negative campaigning. Sadly for the Tories, this simply doesn't work for the Tories in UK General Election campaigns. Whilst it worked worked well for Boris, who is a sharp operator and genuinely witty, in his Mayoral campaign against Ken Livingstone, it fails miserably when you have someone like Cameron in charge.

The problem for Crosby is that Cameron is simply incapable of being nasty without looking like an arrogant upper class toff, who thinks he knows it all and is ordering his butler around. Crosby is so mired in politics that he has managed to turn perhaps his biggest asset into a liability. What Crosby has missed is that Cameron is actually a nice bloke, who isn't good at doing nasty. The Tories followed the Crosby method for the first election and it failed miserably (although without him being him in charge). To fail to score an outright majority with the economy in meltdown and Gordon Brown running Labour was a spectacular own goal. Now Crosby looks set to repeat the feat.

 It should be simple. Ed Miliband is seen by many as lacking what it takes to do the job. Cameron has presided over a full term in which the economy has picked up and is now showing record breaking growth.With Cameron still perceived in the country at large as a decent bloke, the Tories should be well ahead in the polls. The problem they have is that Crosby has decided that rather than say "campaign on your record, say you've served your apprenticeship with the Lib Dems, show some vision and give people a positive reason to vote Tory for a better future", he has said "We can only win if  we spend the campaign attacking Ed Milliband". Crosby's plan spectacularly backfired when Cameron forced the sole leadership debate to feature all seven mainland UK party leaders. Now every leader has claimed they won, but the opinion polls tell a different story. The biggest winner was the SNP in terms of the debate, but the true winner was Ed Miliband. Because the Tories campaign is based on the fact that he is unelectable and useless, the fact that he was seen as no better or worse than Cameron has effectively spiked Cameron and Crosby's guns. The biggest failure of Cameron, which no one has picked up, is that Cameron has a problem with women voters. For Cameron to insist that there were three women on the panel, who all did better than him, simply highlighted the problem. Following the debate, all of the women I spoke to commented on how badly this reflected on Cameron.

Crosby has turned Cameron into a vacuous, policy free leader, who's sole claim to the job is that he thinks he'll do a better job than Miliband. As Crosby and Cameron move in those circles, they think that lining up rich businessmen to endorse Cameron will sway the millions of families who have had a massive budget squeeze ever since Cameron got the job. Even hard right commentators such as Peter Hitchens, who writes for the Daily Mail have been forced to admit that David Cameron is a fake

Hitchens speaks for many on the right of the Tory party, who hate Cameron. Like the Labour left with Blair, they sit on their hands gnashing their teeth, but knowing that this is the only way they can ever get their hands on the levers of power.

Perhaps the funniest thing is that Crosby has missed the bleeding obvious. The truth in the UK is that the country is basically inclined to vote for 'nice' centre right smoothies such as Blair and Cameron. Labour under Blair recognised this and stormed to three massive victories. The Tories under Cameron have taken the opposite view, choosing to mask all of their candidates best qualities and making him play to his own biggest failings.

What is interesting is to cast your mind back to Blair and how new Labour used to operate. They were far more nasty than the Tories have ever been, but they made damn sure that it wasn't Blair who was sticking the knife in. "Tone" was always seen to be nice, decent and reasonable. Crosby managed the Tory campaign against Blair in 2005. Blair demolished it, even though his shine had long since worn off, mired in the post Iraq sleaze.  Tony Blair realised that when it comes to mudslinging, it is better to let someone else do it for you. Sad

The truth is that Lynton Crosby is a back seat driver who is sending Cameron and the Tories off a cliff.  Whilst many Tory backbenchers recognise this, the elite group at the top aren't listening.I simply wonder when the penny will drop with the Tories and they'll sack Crosby. As someone who doesn't want to see another Tory government, I for one hope that the realisation will come after, not before the general election. Sadly for Cameron, I think he'll be packing his bags in May and wishing that he'd followed his own instincts, told a better story and sacked crosby when he had the chance.

1 comment:

Bill Chapman said...

Labour is running a more disciplined campaign than the Tories, and will reap the benefits. What strikes me is that the Labour Party has had its members and supporters out on the ground, knocking on doors and talking to people. I was out with a team of eight Labour volunteers this morning. No number of leaflets through the post or jiggery-pokery on the electronic media can beat this personal approach.