The New Statesman’s rolling politics blog

RSS

The Tories' "decapitation" strategy is likely to backfire

And why are the Tories so keen to oust Ed Balls if he would trigger a Labour civil war?

In the wake of the Lib Dem surge (which shows little sign of abating) it looks like the Tories have all but given up on certain seats. The party has decided to scale back its campaign against the Lib Dems and instead aggressively target up to 20 more Labour seats.

Here's what a senior Conservative strategist told the Telegraph: "As one door closes with the surge in Liberal Democrat support, so another door has opened with the collapse in Labour support." Another said: "We have completely ripped up our plans and changed strategy in order to keep up with the changing situation out there."

This approach is at least consistent with electoral reality. Recent polling in Lib Dem-Tory marginals suggests that Nick Clegg's party will keep almost all of the 23 Lib Dem seats David Cameron needs to win for a majority.

But the decision to adopt what amounts to a "decapitation" strategy, targeting cabinet heavyweights including Ed Balls (notional majority: 9,784), Jack Straw (notional majority: 8,016) and John Denham (notional majority: 8,484), looks like a misjudgement.

As the Lib Dems learnt to their cost in 2005, if you announce your targets in advance, you look rather foolish if you then fail to defeat them. The strategy may have the potential benefit of diverting Labour resources away from less prominent candidates but it's still a risky enterprise.

Meanwhile, in the case of Balls, who George Osborne flagged up as target in a recent campaign bulletin, i'm confused. Tories like Michael Gove never cease reminding us that Balls is a Brownite tribalist whose leadership ambitions could plunge Labour into civil war. So why, in this case, are they so keen to oust him?

 

Follow the New Statesman team on Facebook.