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Cameron And Crosby Will Go With Morgan, Not Redwood

Last Updated: Friday, January 24th, 2014

On Tuesday of this week I interviewed John Redwood for ConservativeHome. He expounded with his usual terrifying lucidity what I described as a doctrine of “coercive loyalty”.

According to this doctrine, Conservative backbenchers will remain loyal to the Conservative leadership on condition that it does what they tell it to do. And this, Redwood contends, will make for a more popular and successful Conservative party, with a better chance of winning the next general election, for what the backbenchers are demanding – tougher controls on immigration, repatriation of powers from Brussels, non-intervention in Syria – turns out to be what the voters want too.

A few hours after I listened to Redwood’s analysis, Nicky Morgan, a Treasury minister, told the Bright Blue think tank that people are fed with up “with hearing politicians talk about who we hated – we’re anti this, we’re anti-that, we don’t like them, we don’t want them here, we don’t want them doing this”.

Morgan contends that to win the next election, the Tories should adopt a more “positive” tone. This is certainly the tone which comes most naturally to David Cameron. In the early years of his leadership, before the economic boom burst, he was in his element talking the inclusive language of hope, aspiration, environmental concern and social action.

Towards the end of last year, when week after week at Prime Minister’s questions he launched brutal and unwearying attacks on Ed Miliband, he reminded me of a gifted cavalry officer who has somehow allowed himself to be dragged, minus his horse, into a grim street battle to which he is not really suited.

It seemed to me that most of the arguments Cameron was making were correct, but the way he made them was demeaning. The Prime Minister was so scornful of his opponent that he himself sounded pretty unpleasant too. We seemed to be witnessing a core vote strategy which would not win the Conservatives a single vote outside the ranks of those who already regarded themselves as Conservatives.

But I then recalled a tutorial given to me by Lynton Crosby in December 2011, when he was running Boris Johnson’s campaign to be re-elected as Mayor of London – a campaign that proved victorious. Crosby explained that there are three groups in politics: the base, the swing and the antis.

To win an election, he said, you need to “lock in your base, then go for the swing”. Crosby is not just a core vote man: if he was, Johnson would have been most unlikely to win. But you do have to start by reassuring your natural supporters, for in a voluntary voting system, staying at home is an option for them. You need to convince them that it is worth their while to turn out for you.

While doing this, you make sure you don’t “pitch to the wrong instincts of the base”, for once that has been secured, you know you will have to go for the swing.

And this surely is what Cameron is trying to do. The rise of UKIP showed that he has neglected his base: he has lost a large number of people who ought to be natural Tory supporters.

Since Crosby’s arrival as Cameron’s campaign manager, there has been a clear attempt to win these people back. They are likely to register a highly embarrassing protest vote against the Conservatives in the European elections this May, but by the time of the far more serious general election which will take place in May 2015, most of them have got to be brought back into the Conservative fold, or the party has no chance of victory.

This is why Cameron has spoken a much harsher language on Europe, immigration and welfare reform. He has tried to show Conservative-minded voters that he too can be a street fighter for various basic Conservative causes such as secure borders, national independence and standing on one’s own two feet instead of relying on handouts.

And although street-fighting is not his natural game, he may at least have shown that he is the least bad street fighter around: for Miliband shows no gift whatever for that kind of warfare, while Nigel Farage talks a good game, but doesn’t have serious forces at his disposal. The backbench support of people like Redwood is far from ideal: but it is still preferable to having, like Farage, no MPs at all.

But well in advance of the general election, Cameron will have go for the swing. He will once more need to establish himself as a national leader, who speaks a broad and inclusive language which appeals to everyone but entrenched Lefties. And there are signs that he is starting to do this. The return of the economy to growth, and the much faster drop than expected in the unemployment figures, have already enabled him to hail what he calls “a recovery for all”.

One can’t yet tell whether this will work.  But I am not surprised by the deep anger that is perceptible among hard-line Conservatives such as Redwood. They know that in the end, Cameron is not really one of them, has shut them out of power, and with steely professionalism is going to pursue the kinder, gentler, more consensual and coalition-minded politics favoured by Morgan.

By Andrew Gimson

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE WEEK ON CONSERVATIVEHOME

Mark Wallace: Could Patrick O’Flynn, iconoclastic journalist turned political spinner, be the next leader of UKIP?  ‘Farage’s newfound willingness to allow others into the limelight is undoubtedly a symptom of his realisation that his party can’t rely on him forever. A number of those I spoke to suggested O’Flynn might be an effective successor were Nigel to fall under a bus: “Less pazazz – but while others are full of themselves, he could cut the mustard”, one said…He may not have stood for election before, but when he finally chose to, UKIP’s members voted him top of his regional list – even above a sitting MEP. In short, Patrick O’Flynn is not an opponent to be dismissed lightly.’ http://t.co/AS3ZM5EwZ4

Peter Franklin: The rich and powerful have little to fear from the conventional left   ‘The conventional left may appear to be the radicals in that they want as much redistribution as they can get away with – but this makes them more not less dependent on the rich and powerful. The last Labour Government was a prime example: pushing up taxation, while at the same time enabling the reckless speculation that allowed the rich to get even richer.  Like all the best protection rackets, the conventional left really does provide protection – in return for a fat slice of the profits.’ http://t.co/OvMUkNU0OQ

Paul Goodman: Jeremy Hunt, people person    ‘Lucky people sometimes seem to make their luck, and so it is with Hunt.  Rather than vanish behind that desk, he has emerged with a plan.  He has done stints in hospitals and surgeries, experiencing for himself how the NHS ticks.  Perhaps his background as a successful businessman – one of the few in the Cabinet – helps to explain his purposefulness and clear thinking.  He isn’t always popular with the Ministers who serve under him, but his ratings with Party members have climbed.  He is emerging as one of the main architects of the Government’s programme of radical public service reform.’ http://t.co/lG1my3wjXJ

Andrea Leadsom MP: A conference that offered a real chance to reform the EU in Britain’s interests   ‘Last week Fresh Start and the think tank Open Europe co-hosted the Pan-European Conference for EU Reform. The two-day event brought together 300 delegates from over 30 countries, including eight Ministers, a European Commissioner, former heads of state, politicians and business-leaders. There was clear agreement over the need for reform, and significant agreement over the types of reform that we should pursue. George Osborne gave the keynote address, and made it very clear that the status quo in the current relationship between the UK and the EU is, indeed, unsustainable and that Treaty change is necessary.’ http://t.co/cEKLxTRrzl

Tom Tugendhat: If Ban Ki-moon wants peace in Syria, he should remove all the other countries from these talks  ‘Like other successful peace talks – Bonn in 2002 – the only people sat in the room should be all of one nation with only the UN to act as facilitators. Everyone else, all 30 outsiders, should wait in the lobby. I know this will annoy the Russian and American negotiators but if they really want to help the Syrian people find a resolution they will leave the UN to do the talking and do what we should have done from the start: persuade others to leave them alone.’ http://t.co/SqX6ROfmOw

By Andrew Gimson

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