By Tim Montgomerie
The Sunday Telegraph leads this morning with an exclusive preview of Lord Ashcroft's review of Tory election performance. The Tory peer makes the following key conclusions about the Tory campaign:THE RESULT WAS DISAPPOINTING
Lord Ashcroft: "The result of the 2010 election was closer than many had expected – closer than Conservatives had hoped for. Many people, including me, were disappointed. The Conservative Party faced a shambolic government, an unpopular Prime Minister, a recession, a huge budget deficit and an overwhelming national desire for change. A year before the election the Conservatives were 20 points ahead in the polls, yet they failed to win an overall majority. Surely this had been an open goal."LABOUR'S ATTACKS WORKED BECAUSE THE CAMERON CAMPAIGN HAD NOT ESTABLISHED A CLEAR IDEA OF WHAT THE CONSERVATIVES WOULD DO IN GOVERNMENT
Lord Ashcroft: "Going into the election, many voters had little clear idea of what we stood for or what we intended to do in government. At a national level, too much of our message was focused on unnecessary and counterproductive attacks on Gordon Brown and Labour, which meant that voters were not clear about our own plans. We did not make as much progress as we should have done in transforming the party's brand, and in reassuring former Labour voters that we had changed and were on their side. This in turn gave Labour's scare campaigns about Conservative plans more resonance than they would otherwise have had, and meant that, for many, voting Conservative was a much harder decision than it might have been."
BECAUSE CCHQ HAD NOT ESTABLISHED THE CONSERVATIVES AS THE PARTY OF CHANGE, THE DEBATES GAVE NICK CLEGG AN OPPORTUNITY TO DO SO FOR THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS
Lord Ashcroft: "Voters who had been reluctantly concluding that they were going to have to grit their teeth and vote Conservative now found that a more palatable alternative also seemed more credible than they had previously thought. The impact would have been much less if we had already been where we should have been in the public mind. The debates were arguably a tactical error which exposed a strategic problem: three weeks before the election the market was still wide open for a party of change. Nick Clegg was only able to appropriate the territory of 'real change' because we did not dominate it ourselves."WITHOUT THE BATTLEGROUND SEATS CAMPAIGN (OVERSEEN BY LORD ASHCROFT) DAVID CAMERON WOULD NOT NOW BE PRIME MINISTER
Lord Ashcroft: "There is clear evidence that the Conservative Party's target seats campaign made a decisive difference to the outcome of the election. We won 32 seats that needed a swing higher than the 4.9 per cent national average we achieved from Labour, or the 1.4 per cent from the Liberal Democrats. Without these, Labour would almost certainly still be in government as the largest party in the House of Commons. In our core battleground target seats we achieved swings well above the national average both against Labour and the Liberal Democrats."REBABILITATION OF THE TORY BRAND CAN BE COMPLETED IN GOVERNMENT
Lord Ashcroft: "It is only in government that the Conservative Party can complete the rehabilitation of its brand – that it can show doubtful voters that it really is on the side of ordinary people, that it is competent to run the economy, and that it can be trusted with public services like the NHS. The offer to work with the Liberal Democrats, and the way David Cameron and his team conducted themselves in the uncertain days after the election, were dramatically at odds with the public view of politicians as childish partisans. Of his many qualities, the one which will serve David Cameron best as Prime Minister is his judgment. From the day he was elected leader, he has in the main made the right calls when it mattered most. In doing so he has rescued the Conservative Party."
Lord Ashcroft has said that the report is meant to be a constructive contribution to improving Tory performance in future. "I want to help learn the lessons that will lead to the Conservatives once again being elected to govern with an overall majority," he said. He takes the opportunity of his interview with The Sunday Telegraph to express disappointment at the party's handling of his own announcement of his non-dom status:
"I think they could have mounted a more spirited defence of the situation. It did prove to me that the Labour Party attack team was much more effective than the Conservative Party defence team. The negotiations [in 2000] with the [Labour] Government for me to join the House of Lords did not include any commitment on my part to be taxed on my worldwide income."
Lord Ashcroft has decided to pull out of the ConservativeHome fringe meeting at the Tory Conference where the election campaign is due to be discussed. He wants his 'Minority Verdict' report to be his last word on the result. The event will still go ahead, however, and all people who have booked to attend will receive a free, signed copy of his analysis by way of apology.
If you have not booked and would like a copy of the report please go to Lord Ashcroft's website.