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(8/10) Sustained and strategic attacks on Labour's economic agenda and its values

By Tim Montgomerie
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Last week in Birmingham I presented a ten step plan to deliver the first Conservative majority since 1992. The plan is summarised on the new website.  Parts one, two, three, four, five, six and seven have already been published.

(8) Concerted attacks on Labour as a party unable to take tough economic decisions and on the wrong side of mainstream Britain’s values

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One of the reasons why political parties deploy so much negative advertising is that the public is much more persuaded by it than positive campaigning. If a candidate declares that her party will spend £1 billion more on better roads people are sceptical. If that very same candidate says that the opposition will cut roads spending by £1 billion the public is so suspicious of politicians that they might well believe it. It’s when negative advertising descends into personal or obviously exaggerated forms then it becomes counter-productive. The 1997 Tory attacks on Tony Blair – which painted him with devil eyes – fell into this trap. Another weakness of that period was the lack of consistency in the Tory message. Conservative HQ couldn’t decide whether Tony Blair was a wolf in sheep’s clothing or if he was an empty suit. One week the Tories were suggesting Mr Blair was an opportunist who believed in nothing and the next week they were suggesting he had a secret agenda to transform Britain for the worse. Blair joked that his opponents couldn’t decide if he was Bambi or Stalin. The public found the attacks unbelievable.

If any election is simply a referendum on the incumbent’s performance then the incumbent is vulnerable. The Tories have to turn the next election into a choice and that means some ruthless and relentless attention on the weaknesses of Labour. The successful attacks must follow four key principles:

THEY SHOULD BE SERIOUS: These are difficult times for the country. We shouldn’t trivialise what is at stake.

THEY SHOULD NOT BE PERSONAL: It’s legitimate to attack Ed Miliband and Labour for ducking tough decisions on the deficit. It’s not legitimate to make personal attacks on his character or background.

THEY SHOULD BE FOCUSED: Initial polling for ConservativeHome suggests that Labour’s three key weaknesses are (1) their continuing reputation as a party of higher spending, higher taxes and higher borrowing and one which hasn’t learnt from the mistakes of the Brown years; (2) the gap in values between the metropolitan elite at the top of the Labour Party that opposes tough action on welfare, crime and immigration and the views of Labour’s heartland vote; and (3) a general sense that the Labour leadership is too weak for these tough times.

THEY SHOULD USE SURROGATES: People believe third parties more than politicians. Conservative HQ must work hard to ensure that it is business leaders who are questioning Labour’s economic plans. Parents’ groups who are attacking Labour’s education agenda and representatives of taxpayers who are targeting Labour’s welfare agenda. A comprehensive investment in third party and external relations should be being made by the Conservative Party now in preparation for the attack period.


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