Was a political knighthood ever more deserved than Lynton Crosby’s? His personal involvement was the difference between defeat and victory – he kept Ed Miliband out of No10. As Tim Montgomerie observed earlier, a hereditary peerage would be in order for that alone. We saw, in 2010, what a Tory general election campaign looks like if left in the hands of a Tory leadership more noted for its enthusiasm in campaigning than their expertise. Crosby distilled down the Tory offering and encouraged Cameron to drop the misnamed ‘modernisation’ agenda which had so narrowed the party’s popular appeal (and halved its membership).
Crosby focused on the basics: tax cuts, efficiency, jobs, prosperity. The safer bet. It was a relatively dull campaign that lured many (myself included) into despair – but Crosby wanted to make this campaign a choice between stability or risk. As he often pointed out, he was in the business of winning elections not providing entertainment for journalists. The television debates, which Cameron did not look forward to, ended up winning the election for the Tories because they produced a star: Nicola Sturgeon. She became a fascinating figure – and the idea of her propping up the hapless Ed Miliband was increasingly credible. Crosby spotted, immediately, that the face of the enemy had changed: this wasn’t an election against Labour, but against a Sturgeon-Miliband coalition of chaos. “Ajockalypse now,” as Boris said. Crosby mercilessly hammered this message home, focusing the minds of wavering voters.
Cameron and Osborne deserve full credit both for hiring Crosby and (crucially) for letting him run the campaign, for following is lead even if they privately had doubts about his strategy. Cameron was quite glum at some points in the campaign, saying it was duller than he would have wanted and admitting that he would like to go ‘off piste’ – but he didn’t. He went off piste in 2010, and saw how that worked out. So Cameron stuck with the Crosby strategy, every single day: even when the polls suggested that his strategy wasn’t working, even when Tory strategists like Andrew Cooper (Crosby’s predecessor) were denouncing the Tory campaign as ‘a prolonged exhibition of insanity’ and giving Crosby and Cameron a 0.5pc chance of victory.
Crosby kept his nerve, and stuck to his strategy when most others (myself included) believed the polls and believe that he failed. As a result, Britain turned out to be the one of the few countries – perhaps the only country in Europe – to have a general election that led to a government more stable that the one that preceded it. If that’s not worth a knighthood, I’m not sure what is.