Two weeks ago you raised a variety of questions for Lynton Crosby. Mr Crosby is a leading architect of Australian Prime Minister John Howard's successes and was Campaigns Director for Michael Howard's 2005 General Election effort. ConservativeHome selected ten of the questions your posed and Lynton answers them below.
Henry Edward-Bancroft: "What mistakes were made at the last general election?"
Everyone makes mistakes. There are always things that in hindsight you would do differently. I think the biggest mistake the Conservative Party could make is not to recognise that winning an election does not start with the election – you cannot “fatten the big on market day” as John Howard likes to say. You have to lay the foundations for community acceptance and electoral success well before the election. Labour themselves have shown that it takes a lot of work over years not months for you to be acceptable – a good campaign, a clever advertisement, a popular policy will count for nothing if the foundations have not been properly layed. The first priority for a party that has lost successive elections is to accept that there are things the voters don’t like about you and respond accordingly . Which means that you must change and demonstrate that you have changed. If the voters have rejected you and you don’t change then they are likely to reject you again. This is where Dave Cameron is spot on – you have to show that you have listened, learnt and respponded to people’s concerns and people have to know what you stand for.
Taxcutter: "What would you have done differently if you had had 3 years to work on a General Election campaign rather than 6 months?"
Spent more timing laying out how the Conservative Party had changed, encouraging the party to engage directly and more effectively with local constituents more effectively, rebuild Central Office – it was more geared to government than opposition - done more to hold local Labour MPs to account for their part in Labour’s failings, done more to demonstrate the positive plans the Concervative Party had developed for Britain. Above all else ensured that voters really knew what the Conservative Party stood for. This all takes time.
Kevin Davis: "Can you foresee David Cameron having to resort to a "dog whistle" strategy? If not what has changed?"
One of the mistakes that Conservatives Party makes is to believe and often to repeat the claims of it’s political opponents – in the Labour Party and the media – make about it. Dog-whistle politics is a fiction. A dog whistle sends a sound that only dogs can hear. Dog-whistle politics apparently involves sending a coded message to certain voters who will understand it whilst others won’t pick it up. It served Labour’s purpose to say that the Conservatives were playing dog-whistle politics on immigration. The Conservatives weren’t. When I arrived Michael howard had already set out five priority areas for his campaign – one of these was immigration – he chose these areas because they – including immigration – were of real concern to voters. His position on immigration as on crime, education, health and tax was very clearly expressed, there was no code, no hidden meaning. The Conservatives were direct and upfront. Of course Labour didn’t like it because they knew they were vulnerable on the issue so they tried to undermine the Conservatives' motives rather than admit that the system was broken and causing problems. Since the election failings in the immigration system has become an even greater concern. There have been legions of stories highlighting this and undermining the community’s confidence in the system. Britain, like Australia has become a much better country through migration and the contribution migrants make, but people must have confidence that the system works.
Robert Halfon: "What should be our five pledges to win the next election?"
I don’t think we should be thinking in terms of what pledge we need to win – it is not that simple nor the right way to be thinking. What we do, and the pledges we make, should be based on what is right for Britain - not what will help us win. What is right for Britain is a government that addresses people’s real concerns, that doesn’t take voters for granted or think that it can simply “spin” its way to success.
Matt Davis: "Were you really worth the extremely large sum of money that the Tories paid you for your advice on the last General Election campaign especially in the light of the very poor outcome?"
That’s a fair question but is based on misunderstanding. Nothing like the monies reported as paid to me came to me. I was paid my normal salary by my company. The Conservative Party engaged my company 'crosby|textor' and through it obtained the services of myself and my business partner Mark Textor on the campaign. The amount reported including VAT and other things that sadly didn’t come my way. To fulfill my commitment to the party I had to leave Australia for close to a year and it took me away from our business. I don’t regret a minute of that but it did place a huge demand on our company.
Andrew Kennedy: "For a number of years I lived in Sydney, and during that time I did some worked for Tony Abbott. This was around the same time as the rise of Pauline Hanson and "One Nation". During this period, the Coalition was in no doubt that the rise of a right wing / nationalist party was extremely damaging to them politically. Even in Warringah there was a full time staff member responsible for countering the Hanson message. Do you think that the Conservative Party is doing enough to meet the BNP / UKIP challenge from the Right ? Or do you think the strategy of broadening the base to the centre and (almost) writing off the Nationalist vote is the correct approach?"
One Nation took more of its support from the coalition than from Labor so we had to think carefully about how we handled it – and more importantly how we communicated to its potential voters because for everyone who voted for One Nation the coalition lost more than Labour. The BNP is different to One Nation as is UKIP although they all feed on feelings of disempowerment and disengagement. If the public at large have a clear understanding of what the Conservatives stand for and see that the Conservative Party understand the values and priorities of the mainstream in our community the party will not be threatened by BNP or anyone else. The Conservative Party has made its distate of the BNP and its unacceptable policies very cleared. UKIP is largely a single interest party that will never deliver. Voters need to understand how voting for BNP or UKIP only helps Labour stay in office.
AussieBum: "John Howard has styled himself as a security hawk. How important is homeland security going to be at future elections across the world?"
We live in an increasingly uncertain world – both economically and in terms of defence and national security. I do not think that you can separate economic from national and defence security, they are interwined. John Howard knows that an unstable world will produce threats to Australia’s economic livelihood as well as it security. By being a ‘security hawk’ as you describe him he is also helping to ensure economic security and stability. Homeland security and economic security will be the foundation issues of elections across the globe for years to come.
Sinita: "Why are the Liberals are out of power in every Australian state?"
Poor quality candidates, lack of professionalism, a failure to engage people on the issues that matter, tired and ineffective MPs who are insufficiently hungry to win and lack of clear definition as to what state liberals believe in. Nationally people know what John Howard’s government stands for – enterprise, economic stability, national security, reward for effort, support for those in need whilst encouraging the majority to take responsibility for themselves and their families. State Liberals don’t have that clarity.
Greek Geek: "Do you read blogs? Do you think they are important?"
Yes. Though not often. They can be very influential. What is important is what they contain. Blogs can be important vehicles to get around the filter of the traditional media which is often captive to the left or the narrow interests of the media proprietor.
Amy Pollard: "What was the best thing about your time in Britain? What was the worst?"
Best: the people (the Conservative Party has many fine people absolutely committed to the party and the nation and it was an honour to meet and work with them)... Worst: the weather (personally the death of my mother and the fact that I missed seeing her before she passed away. I rushed back to Australia in January last year only to miss her by an hour).