A ten point plan to put the Tory election campaign back on track
ConservativeHome.com polled 2,352 Tory members on 22 and 23 February. The results of that survey inform this post.(1) Don’t panic! The Tories are still 7% ahead in the ConHome Poll of Polls. We’re almost certainly further ahead – where it counts - in the marginals. If the election was held tomorrow David Cameron would be Prime Minister and have a working majority. But, to coin a phrase, we can't go on like this. We have lost support in recent weeks and we can’t afford to lose much more. The changes below do not require radical surgery. All the right policies are in place. We simply need a more focused and more disciplined campaign.
(2) Clarify the economic message. In the vote of Tory members I tested four descriptions of the party’s economic message. The official description, supplied to me by George Osborne's office, came bottom in the voting. This, with 41%, came top:
"Every Labour government in history has raised debt and unemployment. Conservatives will clear up Labour's mess again. We'll cut wasteful spending, keep taxes as low as possible and encourage small business."
I'm sure this can be improved upon but let's get a clear message for doorstep campaigners.
(3) Raise the dangers of a hung parliament. In a supplementary question to 326 members in Liberal Democrat-held seats/ councils we asked; “Do you agree that ‘a vote for the Liberal Democrats could produce a hung parliament and keep Labour in power’ is the best line of attack in Lib/Con marginals?” 93% said yes, 5% said no. That’s overwhelming.
(4) Deploy the party's very sensible immigration policies. We may have overplayed it at the 2005 General Election but we are in danger of underplaying it this time. It’s crazy not to be highlighting an issue that is voters’ number two issue. We can start to kill off the BNP by demonstrating we are determined to end Labour’s “out of control” immigration. Unlike Michael Howard, Cameron can sell a tough immigration policy without frightening moderate voters. Chris Grayling and Damian Green have developed a good set of policies. Let’s sell them.
(5) Stop announcing new policies (unless we have a pledge as potent as the 2007 inheritance tax policy up our sleeves!) and focus on the best ones we already have. The Tories have loads of policies but we can’t go into a campaign with two hundred bullet points. We need to highlight just a few key pledges. The top ten issues that Tory members want on campaign leaflets are…
- A cut in net immigration of 75%: 84%
- No more early release for convicted criminals: 65%
- A two year freeze in council tax: 63%
- The abolition of inheritance tax for all families except millionaires: 63%
- A cut in the cost of politics including a 10% cut in the number of MPs and a 5% cut in ministers' pay: 57%
- Headteachers to be put in charge of school discipline: 56%
- Restoring the link between the basic state pension and earnings: 55%
- New laws that will give householders more rights against burglars: 65%
- The budget deficit cut in half by 2014 so future generations don't live in debt: 62%
- Abolition of Labour's expensive ID cards: 55%
I'd add more environmental and social justice themes into that mix but it's a good list to begin with.
(6) Hague is a golden asset. ConservativeHome asked Tory members: “Which of the following individuals should front the Tory campaign?” William Hague – at 94% - gets the same score as David Cameron. He’s box office, particularly in the north. Party members don’t think he can be over-used. Boris is the Conservative that members rate next as a frontline campaigner with a 59% vote. Then Ken Clarke (48%); John Major (34%); Michael Gove (33%); Eric Pickles (33%); George Osborne (32%); Chris Grayling (20%); and then, tenth, the increasingly effective Sayeeda Warsi (19%).
(7) Remind voters on a daily basis of Labour's failures. Brown wants voters to take a second look at Labour. Bring that on! Voters need to be reminded of Labour failures. Tory members voted for these top five attack lines:
- Labour has introduced 111 new tax rises and council tax has doubled: 76%
- Labour failed to control immigration and our schools, hospitals and green space are under pressure as a result: 73%
- 8.1 million people of working age are not working at all and five million are on benefits: 69%
- Labour has doubled the national debt: 69%
- 100,000 million pounds has been drained from British pension funds: 68%
(8) Put someone in 100% charge of campaign co-ordination. I’m hearing lots of stories of too many chiefs in the Tory campaign (all able) but no overall chief. We don’t (alas) have Lynton Crosby co-ordinating this campaign but we need someone in absolute charge and able to give the campaign 100% attention. Who is that? George Bridges? The question needs answering and kinda now.
(9) Cameron can show that he's stronger than Brown by being the election's straight-talker. Labour’s best line is the one hinted at in last weekend’s Independent on Sunday: "There is something remarkable about the sheer bloody-minded resilience of Gordon Brown." Mandelson is talking about Cameron as a wibbly-wobbler. Cameron is a strong leader who does not deserve that label. By telling the truth about the budget deficit - as he has been doing for some time - I think he can get respect from voters and that can be contrasted with Brown’s dishonesty about Britain’s problems. In other words: Honesty equals strength; Dishonesty equals weakness. Sunday’s speech from Cameron – to the Brighton Spring Forum – should all be plain, without-notes straight-talk.
(10) This election is a choice between decline and recovery. The choice at this election must be presented clearly: Brown doubled the national debt by wastefully spending too much taxpayers' money. His failed system of banking regulation meant we have had the longest recession of major economies. Immigration is still increasing. Voters can elect a strong Conservative government that will bring borrowing, immigration and regulation of banks under control or it can choose the chaos of a hung parliament and Britain could go the way of Greece with much higher interest rates.
Governing Britain, given Labour's scorched earth legacy, will be hard but a Conservative agenda will be a huge prize. George Osborne's corporation tax reforms will create a dynamic economy. Michael Gove's school reforms will be revolutionary. Chris Grayling's plans for elected police chiefs will transform the police's idea of accountability. Liam Fox's commitment to restoring the military covenant. A fairer distribution of seats. A 10% cut in the number of MPs. Theresa May's welfare reforms. Iain Duncan Smith's agenda for the family. Dominic Grieve's charter for reversing Labour's attacks on our liberties. See-through government will bring costs down across the public sector. This is an agenda worth fighting for.