Conservative Diary

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The Brighton relaunch of the Tory campaign

By the end of last week it was obvious that the Tory campaign was in trouble. Although the party was still in a strong position it was losing support. Throughout last week Team Cameron prepared a relaunch of the campaign at the Brighton Spring Forum. 'The Brighton relaunch' had the following ingredients:

To frame the election as a choice between 'five more years of Brown' and 'change'. 70% of voters don't want Brown to continue as Prime Minister. Tory strategists think that is their strongest card. The themes of this leaflet will be repeated in all election literature in the 70 days to the likely date of the General Election. William Hague summarised the choice as "change or ruin".

Mettle v bottle. Party strategists have been briefing commentators that Cameron has consistently demonstrated mettle when it has been most demanded:

  1. Mettle when he was the underdog to David Davis in the Tory leadership race;
  2. Mettle when Brown was enjoying his honeymoon as Prime Minister;
  3. Mettle when the expenses crisis broke and he forced out offending MPs;
  4. Mettle when it came to telling voters the truth about the need to make spending cuts;
  5. Mettle in sticking with his policy on marriage;
  6. Mettle in transforming the diversity of Tory candidates...

In contrast Brown is a bottler who never faced up to Tony Blair on Iraq. Bottled his £1m plan to call an election in the autumn of 2007. Bottled telling the British people the truth about the public spending cuts that are going to be necessary.

4395792451_acbf2c5273 Hague has been put front and centre of the campaign. ConHome published a poll last week showing as many members wanted the former Tory leader to front the campaign as wanted David Cameron. Interestingly it was Hague who welcomed David Cameron to Brighton for the 'arrival photo opportunity'. That's traditionally the job of the Party Chairman. He also led the attacks on Labour...

The attacks on Labour are now policy-focused. The 2% Tory lead yesterday was proof, if proof was needed, that bully-gate was a distraction from the main themes of the election. David Cameron was wrong last week - spurning Jonathan Isaby's advice - to wade into the row caused by Andrew Rawnsley's book. The Tories should be above personality politics and focus on the substantial. 'Melanchthon' used a blog to set out six substantial attacks. I think his top four are enough.  

Screen shot 2010-03-01 at 08.06.02Boosting of George Osborne. Labour see the Shadow Chancellor as the weak link in the Tory machine. Ken Clarke spent a good part of his Saturday afternoon speech praising the man who aspires to be the next Tory Chancellor. Clarke's praise of Osborne reminded seasoned observers of the veteran Tory's 'any enemy of John Major is an enemy of mine' stance from the 1990s. There were no new announcements on tax but the attitude from George Osborne has shifted. The Telegraph got a strong briefing for its Saturday edition that tax cuts would come within fifty days as part of a growth agenda.

The Tory campaign is now focused on six themes.

Screen shot 2010-03-01 at 07.51.59

Immigration is not one of the six Tory themes but Cameron is now at least mentioning voters' number two issue (as Labour ministers are). This is what he said in yesterday's speech:

"People want us to be frank about the issue of immigration, it has been too high for too long, and it needs to be cut, and I will cut it, and we've set out reasonably, sensibly, calmly, how that should be done."

Tim Montgomerie


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