For the Conservative party, 2013 has been the year of Lynton Crosby. Just over a year ago, the Wizard of Oz was appointed David Cameron’s chief election strategist. Now he’s full-time. His brief is to make sure the Tories in government have a clear message – something that eluded them in the 2010 campaign. And to see that the message is articulated in deeds, not words.
In April, the Prime Minister described his own strategy by using a quote from the late Keith Joseph: ‘the right thing to do is to address the things people care about; to fix yourself firmly in what Keith Joseph called the “common ground” of politics’. As opposed to the middle ground of Westminster. Here’s the six top incursions into this middle ground.
1. David Cameron’s Europe speech
The Prime Minister kicked off this year by addressing the EU issue head on, with his speech announcing a renegotiation and referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. The speech acknowledged he could no longer ignore the public opinion, which had started to drift towards Ukip. On the whole, it’s been a popular move.
2. ‘Get rid of all the green crap’
It was a unofficial quote, not even attributed to Cameron. But in his Spectator interview he didn’t deny using the phrase, and it suits them. Gone are the days of eco-snobbery. Hugging a husky, pimping his G-Wiz and remodelling the Tory logo are now but a distant memory.
The energy minister Michael Fallon told the Spectator recently ‘we’re going to make sure that in future, where there are extra taxes the government put on top, these are fair, proportionate and they are aimed at helping those most in need’. In other words, no more green crap.
3. Theresa May’s battle with immigration
The Home Secretary’s tough new Immigration Bill was introduced to Parliament in October, and she has already made striking progress cutting net immigration. She has also successfully managed to place Abu Qatada in a catapult and send him back to Jordan. The Prime Minister is certainly on her side — he used a recent FT article (£) to say he’d deport even EU nationals if they could’t find work.
4. ‘Go Home’ vans roll into East London
A little bit too much enthusiasm from Ms May here. In money terms, the vans made sense — the government claims £830k was saved on the basis of 60 voluntary returns at a cost of £1,000 each, compared to £15k per enforced removal. But, they added to the notion among the chattering classes that the Tories were morphing back into the nasty party.
They created another coalition split, prompted an ASA investigation and left a sour taste in many mouths in Westminster. YouGov polling suggests however that the public was in favour of them: the last poll stated 55 per cent were in favour vs 35 per cent against. There was no doubt who this message was aimed for: voters as much as illegal immigrants. In this case, the political row didn’t quite match the public outrage.
5. Andrew Cooper quits No.10
No.10’s in-house pollster Andrew Cooper decided he’d had enough and quit in October. He’s a committed moderniser, but usually backs up his ideas with opinion polls. His admirers saw him as a pitiless empiricist, his critics saw this as his dressing up his own personal ideology as objective truth. He was bound to clash with Crosby, who also has opinion polls at his disposal. No.10, it seems, was not big enough for both of them.
6. Osborne shows his teeth on welfare reform
After Mick Philpott was convicted of manslaughter, George Osborne waded into the national outrage by stating ‘there’s a question about the welfare state, and taxpayers who pay, subsidising lifestyles like that’. It was not the first time in 2013 that the Chancellor showed his appetite for a more muscular vocabulary – which is his definition of ‘common ground’ with the public.
Polls do show that working class voters are very angry with welfare claimants and the welfare cap is the most popular reform made by this government. Iain Duncan Smith had wanted to present this as something that saves souls, not money. But Osborne sees political capital in portraying Labour as the party of the shirker.
The modernisers watch all of the above with dismay. But Cameron’s leap to the ‘common ground’ and his lurch towards the public opinion seems to be working. Labour’s stock, and their lead in the opinion polls, is steadily waning. No doubt this hardening will continue in 2014.Tags: Conservatives, George Osborne, green crap, Lynton Crosby, Modernisation, Polling, Theresa May, UK politics