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Eric Pickles warns against "nasty" use of MPs' expenses in campaigning

DSC05153 In an interview with ConservativeHome, party chairman Eric Pickles has warned Conservative candidates campaigning on the expenses issue to be careful not to do so in a nasty way that runs the risk of the backfiring on them.

In Norwich North, Chloe Smith made a contract with voters relating to expenses, and other candidates have been doing likewise over recent weeks. Last week we highlighted a particularly hard-hitting campaign ad placed by Leah Fraser in Wallasey in which she set out her own pledges, but also hit out at some of the claims on the public purse made by her Labour opponent.

Mr Pickles says:

"They [any Conservative candidates using MPs' expenses as a campaign issue] are going to have to be really careful about it. It's going to have to be measured, judged, reasonable, completely truthful... and on a very straightforward basis: otherwise the message will be forgotten and it is the language which will be remembered. Is it going to be a feature of the general election? I'm absolutely sure. And the one that uses it nastily, carpingly will get a bit of the vitriol back at them, so they're going to have to be very careful."

The party chairman said he thought that the Liberal Democrats' negative campaigning in Norwich North - especially its eve-of-poll smears which were nonetheless rebutted through the blogosphere - had gone down particularly badly with voters. And he says that Conservatives campaigning against the Lib Dems in particular should be wary of negative campaigning:

"You don't beat Lib Dems by being negative and nasty. The only way you get Lib Dems across to you is by being positive, explaining what you're going to do. We always fail when we go in hard... the medium becomes a message - it's the nastiness that people remember."

He also repeated the warning he gave to all party activists via yesterday's Guardian interview, that the next election was not "in the bag" and that work on the ground needs to be ongoing throughout the summer:

"I must be the only person in the party or in the country who is worried about our large opinion poll lead, but I think there is an element that says 'it's in the bag, we don't need to do anything, we can just sail through'. I don't believe for one moment that that is the case and that opinion polls which give a 16%, 18% lead in late July can be relied on to keep going all the way through until the general election: we are not in a position of 'one more push and it's ours'."

"What the party needs to understand is that we need an unrelenting push between now and May or whenever it comes... We should use the summer for keeping the pressure up. I don't mean we should annoy people as they are slurping through their 99s or biting into their Mivvies, but what I do mean is that there are things we do need to do to get ready for the election, making sure the organisation will be ready.

"Have we got our delivery network set up? Have we got new people in place? Have we worked out where our posters are going to be? Have we worked out our roads for canvassing? Have we looked at our pledge target and how close are we? All these kinds of things need to be done between now and the party conference - not necessarily completed, but significant progress can be made and that's what I think we need to be doing now.

"I'm certainly going to be spending just about the whole of the recess touring marginal seats, chatting to them about their organisation and just getting folks ready for that election."

Jonathan Isaby


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