Conservative Diary

Labour strategy

4 May 2010 14:10:29

Thank you Ed Balls and Peter Hain for reinforcing the Conservative message

Picture 23 There has been much discussion across the media today about the pleas for anti-Tory tactical voting by Ed Balls and Peter Hain this morning - and it seems Tessa Jowell has now joined in as well.

These Cabinet ministers are counselling Lib Dem voters to back Labour in a bid to stop Conservatives from being elected in seats where the Lib Dems have no chance of winning, and effectively telling Labour voters to back the Lib Dems in seats where Labour is in third place - such as Norfolk North, as Ed Balls suggests.

But I wonder whether they may yet come to regret these last ditch interventions: Labour are attempting to play them down, and I don't doubt that Nick Clegg will not be thanking them for one moment.

For what they have done is to reinforce the Conservative message that if you want Gordon Brown and Labour out of office, then the only way to ensure that happens is to vote Conservatve.

The Lib Dems have been trying to claim that they offer change, but they have refused to rule out propping up a Labour administration; and now you have the message being conveyed by these senior members of Brown's adminstration that in Parliament Labour and the Lib Dems are interchangeable peas out of the same pod.

Incidentally, the very notion that tactical voting can only work against the Conservatives has now been blown out of the water.

On today's World at One programme on Radio 4, ex-Labour minister Lord Gilbert called on Labour voters to vote Conservative as a tactical move against the Lib Dems in seats where Labour is in third place because the Lib Dems would be irresponsible when it comes to "defence of the realm".

On the same programme a Lib Dem sympathiser in the Labour marginal of Tooting was interviewed saying that he would vote Conservative to oust the sitting Labour MP.

And when it comes to the political instincts of Lib Dem voters on the ground these days, it is also worth looking at the London mayoral election result from 2008. Of those who voted for Lib Dem candidate Brian Paddick who used their second preference vote, they split virtually 50-50 between Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson.

Jonathan Isaby

3 May 2010 18:49:10

George Osborne nails Labour's latest lie on child tax credits as he previews David Cameron's "unprecedented political marathon"

George Osborne on Politics Show In an email to party members tonight, Gorge Osborne has emphasised that the party is "taking absolutely nothing for granted" in advance of polling day.

He promotes the latest election broadcast and attack ad, reveals that the party's contract with voters has now been delivered to 4 million homes and previews the "unprecedented political marathon" David Cameron is about to undertake:

"David Cameron will continue to lead from the front in this election. He will be campaigning right through the night, travelling across the whole country in the last twenty four hours before the eve of poll. It is a first for British politics, an unprecedented political marathon. It will be exhausting and exhilarating in equal measure, and it shows that David and our party are prepared quite literally to go the extra mile to change Britain for the better."  

Sky News reporter Dharshini David said on air a little while ago that the tour would take in all four corners of the UK - England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland (ash cloud permitting).

Meanwhile, George Osborne also took the opportunity in his email to nail Labour's latest lie about Conservative policy:

"We are seeing a desperate campaign from a desperate Gordon Brown, that will shame the Labour Party for years to come. We have already exposed the lies on pensioner benefits and Sure Start - and our Contract makes clear commitments to protect them.

"Labour's latest lie of this campaign is on the child tax credit. Gordon Brown said we would cut it for the "very poorest". That is completely dishonest. We would keep child tax credits, and protect them for those families on modest incomes. Only families on incomes above about £50,000 would stop receiving tax credits.

"When we announced this the Labour Party attacked it on the grounds that it wouldn't save very much money because few families would be affected; now they are attacking the same policy with the ludicrously untrue claim that many millions of people would be affected. It just shows what dishonest nonsense they are spreading, and we are rebutting it directly."

Jonathan Isaby

2 May 2010 07:35:00

Labour's aim now isn't to stop David Cameron

My leitmotif throughout this election is that most voters are feeling two impulses. The first is to kick the politicians.  The second is to mind their wallets (and their families).

If enough voters are swayed by the first on Thursday, the Liberals will come in at 28% or above. Labour will collapse to 25% or below.

If enough voters are moved by the second, Labour will come in at 28% or above, and the Liberals at 25% or below.

If the two cancel each other out, both parties will end up in the mid to high twenties.

Melanchthon believes that the first outcome is more likely to take place, as he's made clear here and elsewhere.

Like everyone else, I don't know what will happen, but suspect that the second outcome is more likely, because my sense is that voters are increasingly turning their minds to the economy, as I wrote recently here, and to the dangers of a hung Parliament.  According to ICM's poll in the Sunday Telegraph here, 52% of those polled now believe that this outcome would be bad for Britain.

If this is correct, the Liberals will find during the next few days that their support slips away.  Left-leaning voters, spooked by the spectre of "Tory cuts" (especially in the public sector), will drift back to Labour. Enough may do so for Brown's party to limp in second in the popular vote.

Continue reading "Labour's aim now isn't to stop David Cameron" »

24 Apr 2010 15:36:37

George Osborne concludes that Labour's campaign is "in disarray" as he confirms that the Tory battleground has expanded to include Ed Balls' seat, among others

George Osborne 2010 Chancellors debate Shadow chancellor and general election campaign co-ordinator, George Osborne, has just issued his weekly campaign update to party members.

Here are selected highlights:

Mocking Labour's campaign

"After a lot of Twitter excitement, Labour have revealed their secret 'big name' ... an Elvis impersonator. An appropriate choice as according to the polls the public are fast reaching the conclusion that Gordon Brown should leave the building.

"In fact Labour's campaign is now in disarray. They have been reduced to briefing journalists that Gordon Brown is going to be meeting more "real people". Unfortunately for them, the more people see of Gordon Brown the more they are convinced that they don't want another five years of him."

Exposing Labour's scaremongering and negative campaigning

"One of the most powerful moments of Thursday's debate was when David exposed Gordon Brown on Labour's shameful scaremongering leaflets. For too long Labour have been trying to scare pensioners by saying we would scrap the Winter Fuel Allowance, cut pension credit and other key benefits, end free bus travel fo pensioners and get rid of free TV licences for the over-75s. As David Cameron told the whole country in the debate, none of this is true.

"Having been found out, Gordon Brown could only respond with the extraordinary claim that he hadn't approved any of these attacks. Yet many of them were included in Labour's election broadcast and on their website. Once again he is taking the country for fools.

"We're picking up rumours that Labour are going to get even more negative next week. If true, this will be just another sign of desperation as their campaign continues to collapse."

Continue reading "George Osborne concludes that Labour's campaign is "in disarray" as he confirms that the Tory battleground has expanded to include Ed Balls' seat, among others" »

6 Apr 2010 14:52:31

George V The Dragon

Screen shot 2010-04-06 at 14.50.54 Lord Mandelson deigned recently to let it be known that he will be Labour's "chief election strategist".  (Not much of a role, then, for Douglas Alexander, the party's "election co-ordinator".)  We knew already that Mandelson's Conservative opposite number will be George Osborne.  Prepare, therefore, for a rush of commentary claiming that -

Much of what one does aims to out-fox the other.  For example, public spending in 2010 will be £655 billion.  Osborne has announced that he will cut this total by £6.5 billion.  This doesn't mean that he's given up on curbing spending growth: bigger reductions will come in the second and third years of a Conservative Government.  But it does mean that Mandelson's anti-Conservative case - that Tory "cuts" will put recovery at risk - has nowhere to go.  After all, a 1% cut in spending growth couldn't possibly de-rail economic recovery.

For both, the election will be a grudge match.  It would be misleading to say that Osborne and Mandelson are ancient foes.  Osborne's real long-term opponent is Brown, who he man-marked as Shadow Chancellor for two years (thereby becoming the only Conservative holder of the post to outlast him) and tackled previously as Shadow Chief Secretary and as a Shadow Treasury Minister.  But "Yachtgate" transformed what seems to have been a beautiful friendship - based on Mandelson privately running Brown down and Osborne egging him on - into a bloody vendetta.  The election must leave one man or the other holed beneath the water line.

The two are dopplegangers. Both had well-connected upbringings, have devoted most of their working lives to their respective political parties, are political strategists adept at crafting messages and staying remorselessly on them, like mixing with the rich and famous, enjoy taking risks (Mandelson's Cabinet return; Osborne's tax announcements), and have devoted their careers to someone else - sometimes at the expense of their own short-term interests.  (First Blair and then Brown in Mandelson's case; Cameron in Osborne's.)


Most of this is accurate enough, but the differences between the two are at least as interesting as the similarities -

The Cameron/Osborne relationship is more grown up than Brown/Mandelson.  "I went over to see Gordon in his office," a diarist wrote in May 2001.  "He had a pile of papers and had written 'Who will silence Mandelson?'…I said I was fed up being expected to sort out all these feuds and personality clashes."  The diarist in question was none other than that other election campaign retread, Alistair Campbell.  And this is one of the entries that the old spinmaster didn't excise to spare his party's blushes.  The relationships of the New Labour elite, as recorded even in their own words, have an adolescent tang.  Cameron Towers are cooler and calmer.

To date, Mandelson's been a winner, Osborne a loserMandelson helped craft "Kinnock, the movie" in 1987.  Admittedly, Labour were thrashed in that election.  But the venture was one of the party's few admired gambits, and Mandelson was kept out of the 1992 debacle.  He went on to help craft Labour's 1997 and 2001 landslides.  Osborne, by contrast, worked in Downing Street before the first Blair landslide, was William Hague's Political Secretary during the run-up to the second Blair landslide, and was Shadow Chief Secretary immediately before Labour's third victory.  This history will rankle - and Osborne will be the hungrier boxer of the two during the weeks to come.

Osborne has a sharper eye for policyTo the Shadow Chancellor as to the Business Secretary, policy must always serve a political purpose.  But the former grasps better the detail of proposals and their place in a narrative.  The inheritance tax and stamp duty plans Osborne announced in 2007 weren't just well-timed, and didn't just help block an election which Brown might have won.  They helped to tell a story of passing wealth down the generations, since younger people want to get a foot on the housing ladder and older people want to pass on their earnings to their children.  The recent NIC cut proposal told a story, too - of a party that wants to cut the tax burden for a purpose: to re-power the engines of growth.  Mandelson has the same ability to describe a big picture, but not the same skill with bold brush-strokes.

Paul Goodman

22 Feb 2010 08:35:39

David Cameron should not bully Gordon Brown about bullying

Scroll down for later updates


MorningpapersThis morning's front pages will make painful reading for the Prime Minister. Most continue to lead on the allegations in Andrew Rawnsley's new book that Gordon Brown bullied staff - covered on the weekend's LeftWatch thread - which are now bolstered by claims from the chief executive of the National Bullying Helpline that her charity has had calls from staff at Downing Street.

The Left have moved to bully one of the messengers (a favourite tactic of Alastair Campbell), effectively accusing Christine Pratt of the National Bullying Helpline of being a Conservative who is trying to make political capital out of the row. I've no idea what her politics are, but I do note that, according to its website, the NBH has worked with a number of Labour-linked trade unions including Amicus, Unison, NASUWT and the TUC itself. Mrs Pratt gave a further interview to the Today programme this morning which seemed to raise further questions rather than shed any more light on matters (audio link will follow shortly is here).

Make no mistake, the allegations are serious. But without any individual personally having spoken out themselves to make a specific accusation, the Brown camp can continue to issue generalised denials and we could yet reach a position where Brown ends being viewed by the public as the victim in all of this (as was the case when the Sun monstered him for mis-spelling the name of a dead soldier in a condolence letter).

As such, a time when a narrowing opinion poll lead will be focusing minds, David Cameron should avoid getting involved in the row. There are plenty in the media, the blogosphere and on the Tory backbenches who can comment and ask awkward questions of the Prime Minister on this subject. But the Tory leader should resist any calls for him to go on the offensive.

Continue reading "David Cameron should not bully Gordon Brown about bullying" »

13 Dec 2009 18:25:38

How should the Conservatives counter Labour's 'Tories will increase VAT and cut inheritance tax' attack?

Picture 15  A Tory poster from last year.

Labour's fightback strategy becomes clearer by the day.

We already have seen Team Brown throw the kitchen sink at us for sticking with our inheritance tax pledge. Policy Exchange's Neil O'Brien recommended that the party drop the pledge to neutralise the 'Tories-are-friends-of-the-rich' message. I was minded to agree with Neil but the party leadership felt that rowing back on the pledge would send the wrong message. After the Daily Mail's anger at the decision not to hold a post-Lisbon referendum, Cameron and Osborne are now even more determined to stick with the commitments to cut IHT and introduce a tax break for married couples.

The second part of the Labour attack is now clear. The Sunday Telegraph's Patrick Hennessy scooped it this morning

"Labour will make keeping VAT at 17.5 per cent a main election "pledge", with ministers constantly claiming that the Conservatives would, by contrast, raise the rate to 20 per cent within weeks of coming to power."

Ed Balls deployed the attack on Marr this morning.

So the Labour tax attack is clear: The Tories will increase VAT (a regressive tax) to fund inheritance tax cuts (for the wealthy).

The truth, of course, is that any VAT increase will be used to start paying off Labour's deficit and the inheritance tax cut won't be delivered until year three or four of any Conservative government but the Tories will probably need more than that to counter Labour's message.

Continue reading "How should the Conservatives counter Labour's 'Tories will increase VAT and cut inheritance tax' attack?" »

9 Dec 2009 16:26:10

Tories accelerate planning for end-March election

Senior Tories including David Cameron himself now think an end-March election is likelier than not.

I'm not so sure. I don't think today's PBR will play well with voters and I can't see Brown going to see The Queen early if Labour still trails in the polls.

Nonetheless it's probably sensible for all Conservative candidates to plan for a 25th March polling day.

Tim Montgomerie

8.15pm: Before I wrote this post, Iain Martin had come to the same conclusion.

7 Dec 2009 13:03:08

Gordon Brown steals David Cameron's language - but fails to convince on his efficiency drive

Gordon Brown Gordon Brown this morning gave a speech in which he appeared to be taking on board much of what Conservatives have been saying for a long time about the benefits of transparency in the Post-Bureacratic Age.

He talked about publishing the salaries of those earning over £150,000 in the public sector and giving parents, patients etc more information online about the services they are using.

He even stole a line directly from David Cameron's victory speech on winning the Tory leadership four years ago.

Cameron said on December 6th 2005:

"There is such a thing as society, it's just not the same thing as the state. "

Brown said today:

"I have always said that there is such a thing as society and always said also that this is not the same thing as the state"

Yet while he may be trying to play catch-up with David Cameron in certain ways, the savings that Brown announced this morning have been given a frosty reception by Shadow Chief Secretary, Philip Hammond, who reacted thus:

Continue reading "Gordon Brown steals David Cameron's language - but fails to convince on his efficiency drive" »

6 Dec 2009 09:12:51

David Cameron brands Brown's class warfare "petty, spiteful and stupid"

Picture 10 The class war which Gordon Brown et al are waging went into overdrive last week, with Brown suggesting at PMQs that Conservative tax policy had been "dreamed up on the playing fields of Eton".

David Cameron, in a pre-recorded interview for BBC 1's Politics Show from Afghanistan, today hits back at Labour, branding the tactic "petty, spiteful and stupid":

"There isn’t any secret about where I went to school.  I think most people know that, I’m not in the slightest bit embarrassed about it.  I never hide my background or where I’m from or anything about my life like that.  My view is very simple, is that what people are interested in is not where you come from but where you’re going to, what you’ve got to offer, what you’ve got to offer the country.

"Now if Gordon Brown and Mandelson and the rest, if they want to fight a class war, fine, go for it.  It doesn’t work.  It’s a petty, spiteful, stupid thing to do but if that’s what they want to do, you know, go ahead. 

"Frankly I think the country is more interested in, who are these people, are they any good, have they got the right ideas, will they take the country forward, have they got the energy and vigour and dynamism that we so badly need?  And the answer to those questions I believe is yes."

Here's the clip from the interview:

Meanwhile, Shadow Business Secretary Kenneth Clarke uses this piece in the Mail on Sunday to suggest that Labour's use of "the politics of envy as a last resort" was "a major strategic blunder which Gordon, Peter Mandelson and the others will soon come to regret":

Continue reading "David Cameron brands Brown's class warfare "petty, spiteful and stupid"" »