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The Tories’ campaign strategy

And they’re off! This is less a two-horse race of LibDem leaflet fame, and more a thorough bred tearing up the track as the knackered and no-hopers settle into a canter. At least that’s how the Conservatives and their helpful friends in the press and broadcast media see it. And, understandably, they want to maintain that ridiculous lead. A stumble here, a distraction there, in these volatile political times who can say with any confidence that the Labour horse won’t put on unexpected speed and take a surprise victory? One for Arthur could become One in Theresa’s Eye, if they’re not careful.
The Tories know this. They become their sharpest and most self-aware when an election is in play. The return of Lynton Crosby to the fold, now “Sir” in recognition of the scurrilous campaign he ran in 2015, provides advance notice of what to expect. Smears of leading Labour figures, the ceaseless opposition of Labour chaos to Tory stability, scapegoating and fear-mongering over immigrants, nonsense about public spending, and, latterly, the need for a strong hand to see down the dastardly Eurocrats in the Brexit negotiations. A recipe for the worst in living memory, the only saving grace this general election has is its tight timescale. And so, as far as electoral politics go, the Tory task is a simple one. Maintain the coalition corralled by 2015’s fear and loathing, scoop up the returning UKIP vote and strike just enough of a One Nation pose to grab disaffected Labour, and job done. The LibDems might take back a few seats that fell to the Tories, but the sacrifice will be worth the pick ups they expect elsewhere.
We’ll see these attacks when they arrive, but foremost in CCHQ’s mind is ensuring the wheels don’t career off the wagon. This is difficult when their best card is their biggest weakness. Theresa May, in some respects, is the perfect candidate. Throughout the Dave/Osborne years, she was an absent presence, a shadowy figure who sat at the Home Office and let the toffs get on with fronting up the government. Where she did court controversy, as with the racist van wheeze, liberal public opinion got indignant but it enhanced her standing with the withering Tory grassroots and she emerged unscathed. Her coronation after the joke of last year’s Conservative leadership contest meant she evaded scrutiny of her record and the policy platform she favoured, and so when she took to the podium outside 10 Downing Street and delivered her Ed Miliband speech, for most people it was the first time they’d properly seen her. And so an address that few, in the abstract, could disagree with, a politician feted as a “grown-up”, and a country in the biggest hole its has ever dug for itself, May presented as a figure that all kinds of hope could be projected onto. This was also a very favourable contrast to Jeremy Corbyn’s person, who through a mix of missteps, internal sabotage and the worst coverage a Labour leader has ever attracted, was (and is) cast as a figure who epitomises the crisis of politics.
At her introduction as the new Prime Minister, May was therefore something of a Tony Blair figure, and it’s no accident that she’s running a 1997-style campaign. By that, I mean while the Tories are ahead in the polls by the sorts of margins New Labour commanded, they are hypersensitive to anything that could go wrong. With Blair, that was mostly at the level of policy, which was why anything smacking of “old” Labour – trade unions, the ‘s’ word – were expunged from the campaign lexicon. It’s different with the Tories this time, as May doubles up as their biggest weakness. Anyone knows that at Prime Minister’s Questions, more often than not she is left looking robotic, dithery, shifty, and unable to think on her feet. If points scored at the weekly ding-dong translated into points on opinion polls, Labour would walk the election. However, it is a minority pursuit and so the confected assumption of May’s competence and maturity remains untroubled. Tory objective number one is to maintain that standing, therefore no leaders’ debates. It’s not that they fear Jeremy Corbyn would be able to turn it around on the basis of a couple of set piece events, but that she would stand utterly exposed as hapless. If, after all, she can’t beat the Labour leader in a debate, how can she negotiate a decent Brexit deal with hard nosed folks across the Channel? It also explains the difference between the style of the two emerging campaigns. While Jez held a rally (of course) and took awkward questions, May helicoptered to a golf club the other end of the country for the softest of launches with tame Tory councillors and assorted lickspittles. No journos, no members of the public. Crosby’s nightmare is to have her cornered and expected to answer questions where “we’re spending record amounts” won’t do as an answer. Their strategy has to be based around keeping her away from the public. There is nothing to be gained from engaging with them, and possibly a few losses as well.
You don’t have to be a genius to see how this could store up problems for May. By neglecting the media and allowing more coverage of the opposition parties, that can feed into her stability vs chaos pitch – especially if a leadership debate goes ahead without her. They will also be banking on the idea that the more the public see of Jeremy Corbyn, the less they’ll like him. It’s a gamble, though, especially in these politically febrile times.
The flip side of this is the media will start running ‘where’s May’ pieces. Already, they’re chafing at the PM’s studied non-engagement. The point will come when the campaign has to decide whether this silence is damaging, and they’ll try neutralising it in a couple of ways. One would be a Q&A with “the public”, which they haven’t ruled out – though I would imagine May would have difficulties if her interlocutors are allowed follow up questions. And the second will be Crosby’s dead cat. When the press is jam full of complaining and moaning, expect them to push hard on the IRA or Islamist stuff. They won’t have any new material, the old stuff dredged up by two Labour leadership campaigns will do the job well enough. And when that happens, Labour has to be ready with a counter of its own.

Another interesting side strategy is expectation management. In stories “leaked” to the press this morning, punters are being fed the derisory nonsense that opinion polls in the key marginals could be out by as much as 15%, and so every vote counts. Utter nonsense, of course, but rational – from their point of view – nonsense. Assuming the Tories win, doing so without speaking to the public is bad enough, but on a turnout significantly below standard numbers stores up legitimacy problems for the future. That might not matter if the majority is a thumping tally, but it certainly will for a Prime Minister determined to prevent Scotland breaking away. If May wants to pose as Britain’s authentic voice, she’d better have a strong vote backing her up.

A public facing campaign without the public. This is what we can expect from the Tories and, unless something major happens, it should see them through. More’s the pity.

34 Comments

  1. Imran Khan says:

    So, Phil. Is it your opinion that there is a distinct possibility of the Tories losing and by how much?

  2. Robin Edwards says:

    The reasons the Tories called this election is because their manifesto was tying their hands. They need to increase taxes on the poor through NI and extending VAT to a wider range of commodities and their previous pledge not to raise taxes had left the bankers’ state hog tied and they need another bail out because Britain is bankrupt.

    Unfortunately unless Corby says that Brexit for Labour means leaving the ESM and the Custom’s Union and restoring democratic control over immigration all his pledges and promises will fall on deaf ears.

    1. Steven Johnston says:

      Robin, are you are saying that the 2015 tory manifesto was a good one, as it pledged not to raise VAT & taxes on the poor?

  3. Tony says:

    Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has today made clear his willingness to actually start a nuclear war.

    This is his chilling message to the listeners of Radio 4’s Today programme:

    “In the most extreme circumstances, we have made it very clear that you can’t rule out the use of nuclear weapons as a first strike.”

    This reckless talk makes nuclear war more likely and thus threatens our very survival.

    We need to know if a willingness to start a nuclear war is also Theresa May’s position.
    She must not, therefore, be allowed to dodge the leaders’ debates.

    The other parties must attack relentlessly over this.

    In addition, I urge everybody to sign this petition. Our very survival may depend on it.

    https://www.change.org/p/theresa-may-we-deserve-a-debate-what-s-may-scared-of

    Thank you.

    “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

    President Regan, 1984 State of the Union address.

    1. Steven Johnston says:

      In October 1946, Attlee called a small cabinet sub-committee meeting to discuss building a gaseous diffusion plant to enrich uranium. The meeting was about to decide against it on grounds of cost, when [Ernest] Bevin arrived late and said “We’ve got to have this thing. I don’t mind it for myself, but I don’t want any other Foreign Secretary of this country to be talked at or to by the Secretary of State of the US as I have just been… We’ve got to have this thing over here, whatever it costs … We’ve got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it.”

      Does anyone think that voting labour means the UK will get rid of Nuclear weapons?

      1. Karl Stewart says:

        Steven, Labour’s policy is to renew the Trident system, so the answer to your question is No, voting Labour will not mean the UK getting ride of nuclear weapons.

        1. Imran Khan says:

          Is Corbyn still in CND?

        2. Steven Johnston says:

          So, if you want a political party that will use troops to smash strikes, pass racist immigration legislation, renew Trident and start wars around the globe, you should vote Labour.

          1. Karl Stewart says:

            No idiot, if you want a party that will do all of those rhigs, that’s the Tory and LibDem parties.

            Labour will support the union movement and push for peace around the world.

  4. Bazza says:

    The Tories may just have had their Gordon Brown moment but the media have so far failed to pick up on it!
    Are some photos doing the rounds – the original shows Jeremy meeting an older working class woman on her doorstep and she puts her fist in the air as a sign of support.
    But it is claimed a Tory Information Officer has doctored the photo to showi the working class woman putting two fingers up to Jeremy and has circulated this fake version around!
    This misrepresents this working class voter.
    Hope she sues or someone does on her behalf!
    This actually demonstrates the complete contempt that the Tories have for working class people/ordinary working people.
    The Masque of Pandora is finally off!

  5. Robin Edwards says:

    Trident does not protect Britain it makes it a target. Being a potential sacrificial pawn in Trump’s system of nuclear `deterrence’ is a seriously stupid idea. I’d say Scotland is in the top five on a list of the most likely location to be nuked next. Get rid before it gets us killed.

    But all this is now moot. Keir Starmer’s NON Brexit has just killed off any possibility of Labour stopping a Tory landslide. Might be down to less than a hundred seats all in South and a few left in Wales.

  6. Steven Johnston says:

    Karl,

    Do you really want me to list all the wars the labour party has supported and/or started?

    Same with all the times they have used the troops to break strikes?

    1. John Penney says:

      And your point is, Steven ? Yes indeedy most of us contributing to Left Futures are WELL aware that the Labour Party historically has been a handmaiden of British imperialism, but TODAY , FFS Steven, The Left’s Jeremy Corbyn is Leader, with a Left, anti Austerity, agenda – facing an overwhelming mass media vilification campaign .

      Would you rather posture on the ultraleft in rubbishing Labour today in this vital General Election period, and assist the Tories to get re-elected, or maybe just shut up for a while with the worthless sniping and actually HELP fight the Tories ? Or are you in fact just a Tory Troll doing a bit of shit-stirring ?

    2. Karl Stewart says:

      The choices are a Conservative government or a Labour government.

      1. Steven Johnston says:

        Well voters can judge for themselves at the election, which of these two parties has adopted the correct position when in power.

        Regarding nationalisation though, no doubt you will say that previous labour goverments have not given us a large enough dose of that medicine. I remember the bad old days of the DDR and those other Eastern European regimes. It didn’t work there and nor did it ever work here.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          Conservatives have traditionally opposed nationalisation, so your view doesn’t surprise me.

          This is because you Conservatives traditionally look after the interests of business.

          But on the other hand, Labour has traditionally looked after the interests of the working class.

          So we Labour people are in favour of nationalisation.

        2. JohnP says:

          Gawd, yet another Tory Troll wasting our time with his Daily Mail memes ! Try to be more “on message”, Steven – ALL Tory posts until further notice should contain the words “strong leadership” and ” Coalition of chaos”. All this DDR memorial stuff is all a bit archaic. You haven’t read your Troll Briefing update you naughty boy !

          1. Steven Johnston says:

            Of come off it! You are one step away from telling us Corbyn can walk on water.
            But, at least you’ve got your excuses worked out for when he loses. It’s the labour right and the media that lost it for him.
            Perish the thought that those poor, dumb workers could have actually seen through him.

    3. Bazza says:

      Yes oh great thinker and well read SJ, some of the early bourgeois socialists (crumbs for working class people and social imperialism) like later Neo-liberal New Labour have much to answer for, but we may be witnessing the dawn of a new era of left wing democtatic socialists who will take on the elite establishment to transform UK society democratically, and then working with sister parties internationally who knows the World may follow our example?
      Keep hope alive!

  7. JohnP says:

    Dearie me, and your point is, Steven ? Yes indeedy most of us contributing to Left Futures are WELL aware that the Labour Party historically has been a handmaiden of British imperialism, but TODAY , FFS Steven, The Left’s Jeremy Corbyn is Leader, with a Left, anti Austerity, agenda – facing an overwhelming mass media vilification campaign .

    Would you rather posture on the ultraleft in rubbishing Labour today in this vital General Election period, and assist the Tories to get re-elected, or maybe just shut up for a while with the worthless sniping and actually HELP fight the Tories ? Or are you in fact just a Tory Troll doing a bit of shit-stirring ?

  8. Bazza says:

    But Karl Foucaut got it right about words being powerful and when I hear nationalisation I think the same bosses in control, top down, very bureaucratic and distant so perhaps we need new practice and language for a left wing democratic socialism for the 21stC.
    So we should talk about democratic public ownership with perhaps all staff electing qualified boards and communities having a say.
    Solidarity!

  9. Steven Johnston says:

    Talking about newspapers that slavishly follow the party line…no we are not talking about the Daily Mail again…one even worse than that!

    http://metro.co.uk/2017/04/24/communist-party-tells-its-voters-to-back-jeremy-corbyn-as-it-fields-no-candidates-6594681/

    With the backing of those Stalinists he hasn’t a hope now. Though they are not going to stand candidates against him so he should hoover up an extra 90 votes.

    1. Karl Stewart says:

      You Conservatives must be rattled if you’re spending time posting on our sites.

      1. Steven Johnston says:

        Don’t worry Karl, Jeremy Corbyn is the Paul Bunyan of the left.

        Why would I need to vote Conservative when it was the Labour party that introduced monetarism into the UK.

        1. Karl Stewart says:

          If a Tory knocks on my door, or wants to talk to me in the street, on occaision, I’ve pretended to be a “former Tory voter” to waste their time.

          But it is the oldest trick in the book and I won’t go out of my way to do it.

          I just find it interesting that the Tories seem to think trolling Labour sites is a worthwhile use of their time.

        2. JohnP says:

          Nope, it’s just not working , Steven – no one here is at all interested in your 15 year old Young Tory Trolling with these “oh just so terribly provocative” statements.

          Good try, but no coconut. Better to stick to the standard Tory playbook – all together now ” STRONG LEADERSHIP…. COALITION OF CHAOS”.

          At least you wasting your time posting on here keeps your hands on the computer keyboard rather than your usual pastime.

  10. JohnP says:

    EERRMMMM……..Nope, it’s just not working , Steven – no one here is at all interested in your 15 year old Young Tory Trolling with these “oh just so terribly provocative” statements.

    Good try, but no coconut. Better to stick to the standard Tory playbook – all together now ” STRONG LEADERSHIP…. COALITION OF CHAOS”.

    At least you wasting your time posting on here keeps your hands on the computer keyboard rather than your usual pastime.

  11. Karl Stewart says:

    There’s a brilliant Facebook thing, with a photo of Samuel London Jackson for Pulp Fiction saying to Theresa May:
    “Say strong and stable again, I dare you, I double dare you motherf***error, say strong and stable one more goddaughter time.”

  12. Bazza says:

    It took 20 years for Right Wing Neo Liberal Think Tanks to capture the Tory Party (Thatcher had to be sat in room and taught Neo-Liberalism by Keith Joseph et al).
    And then the US Republicans (Reaganism) then later the bonus prize New Labour (although some argue some of its original Labour roots were in the mid 70’s Callaghan Government) and Scottish Labour were in awe of Neo Liberal New Labour and the opportunist SNP were grateful for old Labour’s clothes.
    And then the Neo Liberals captured the EC and shouted “House!”
    A Jeremy Corbyn Labour Government could break the chain of Neo-Liberalism (and that is how important this election is) and as well as being an example to left wing democratic socialists in other countries this could then mean UK citizens et al Taking Back Control!
    LAB 4 HOPE!

    1. Steven Johnston says:

      It’s like 1964 all over again!
      How did that end again?

  13. Bazza says:

    The Tory Govt (with Lib Dem fingerprints from the Coalition all over it) Housing & Planning Bill has taken away powers away from democratically elected local councils and local communities and some call it a “DEVELOPER’S CHARTER.”
    It could really help Labour to say it will reverse this Bill and give HOUSING & PLANNING POWER BACK TO THE PEOPLE in fact POWER TO THE PEOPLE could be a good theme for Labour.
    From Day One the Labour Secretary of State for The Environment could send a Circular to local councils saying they now have power back over housing and planning – people are up in arms all over the country at decisions being taken by a distant Secretary of State in London hundreds of miles away! It could be a vote winner!

    1. Steven Johnston says:

      POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

      Wolfie Smith might have the copyright on that one.

      But seriously, what leader ever gave power to the people? Normally they are happy to keep it to for themselves.

  14. Bazza says:

    Out in Leeds today in a Labour marginal and canvassing went well in an area with a number of students and public sector professionals.
    Some good lines emerged.
    One man was usually Labour but voted Out and said he didn’t feel Labour would see Brexit through.
    As an honest left wing democratic socialist (and not a politician) I said the majority in Labour were for Remain, I voted Remain but we lost the argument and we are democrats, so we voted to trigger article 50.
    (Should have added on reflection – Labour is for the Best Brexit for Working People – the Tories are for Brexit for Big Business!)
    Then said something I have been thinking about for a while in relation to attacks on Jeremy – I said if a surgeon was about to do life saving surgery on me would I refuse if he was ugly?
    It is about ideas and what people will do (afterthought we are nothing as citizens if we are not about ideas).
    Labour is the underdog in this election but we have had a good start and they are coming up with good ideas at the top every day but beware the Right Wing media and The Lizard of Oz will throw the dirt at us soon – you ain’t seen nothing yet!
    But here for one one thought – for his role in talking to Sinn Fein which was vilified by the Tories, the Right Wing media and the Labour Leadership at the time (who years later with Blair et al rolled in to claim the credit for the thankful peace process) but it was JC et al who helped to plant the seed for peace and perhaps should be nominated for The Nobel Peace Prize!
    I am not religious but “Blessed are the Peacemakers.”
    Anticipate, Respond, Attack!
    Solidarity!

  15. Bazza says:

    Ooops forgot – also referred this middle aged man (like me) to the Monty Python sketch about the dead parrot – “the EC for us in a few years will be an ex-parrot!”
    But again on reflection to Remainers I would have said we lost the debate but we can still do deals with the EC on the Right to Remain for current EC nationals, our citizens in Spain etc, tariff free access to the EC market (but will have to pay a collective fee rather than individual businesses), European student exchanges, environmental protections, policing and security, and R & D etc.

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