Conservative Diary

Closing the deal

25 Jan 2010 10:00:00

Closing the deal 2/10: Prepare, prepare and prepare for the debates

The election debates (if they overcome last minute spanners-in-the-works) will be a crucial and potentially game-changing feature of the campaign. For Cameron they represent a big opportunity to win the voters' trust. For Clegg and Brown they are a lifeline and a chance to get back in the game. The first debate, hosted by ITN, is likely to pull the biggest audience. It will be the debate that counts most.

  • Expectations of Cameron are understandably high but they are too high. There needs to be a massive exercise in managing down expectations. If Cameron goes into these debates with a Manchester United-sized reputation and Brown begins with a Leeds-sized reputation there'll be a shrug of the shoulders if Cameron wins and big headlines if Brown wins with a memorable strike on goal.
  • Experience from other countries suggests that the third party candidates - not normally receiving much attention - tend to be the biggest gainers from these debates. Cameron needs to use the debates to make it very clear that a vote for the LibDems is Brown's best hope of clinging to power. This is the most important message that Cameron needs to get out to LibDem/Con waverers. That message will be easier to deliver if Clegg gangs up with Brown in attacking Tory policy on marriage and green issues.
  • The Conservative leader needs to look serious and likeable. Jokes at PMQs that impress MPs won't work with a TV audience.  He doesn't need to take risks (certainly not in debate one).  Brown and Clegg as the opinion poll stragglers need to be the gamblers.
  • Debate prep should already be underway. The election campaign will be busy enough. Take advice from seasoned debate professionals in America, Australia and particularly Canada (where the third parties really count).

Tim Montgomerie

25 Jan 2010 08:53:00

Closing the deal 1/10: This election is a choice between a hung parliament and a strong Conservative government

In this ten part series - posting on the hour until 6pm today - I start with this message as Paul Goodman started the year.  It's the most important message that the Conservatives need to communicate from now until polling day.

We need to make it clear (as Eric Pickles, Mark Field (who was in front of the pack) and Ken Clarke have done) that a hung parliament would be disastrous for Britain. The markets might panic. The urgent work of cutting the deficit would be delayed. We would look like Britain in the 1970s; overseen by weak coalition governments.

We need a strong government in these treacherous times. A government with a plan. Not the chaos of a hung parliament and drawn out negotiations until some kind of government is formed.

6a00d83451b31c69e20120a7a68c93970b-800wi No poll suggests Labour can win. No commentator believes Labour will win. Labour's only hope of staying in office is a backroom deal with Nick Clegg.

Voters can choose the Conservatives or the chaos of a hung parliament.

Tim Montgomerie