Boris: Cameron should do "whatever it takes" to hire Lynton Crosby

Mayor of London says the Tories should "push the boat out, break the piggy bank, kill the fatted calf" to secure the services of his campaign manager.

In tomorrow's New Statesman, Boris Johnson adds his voice to those demanding that Lynton Crosby, the hard-nosed Australian political strategist, be installed as the Tories' campaign chief for the 2015 election. He tells Andrew Gimson, who has profiled Crosby for the issue, that the Tories should do "whatever it takes" to secure the services of the man who oversaw his election - and re-election - as Mayor of London. "Push the boat out, break the piggy bank, kill the fatted calf," he says.

Boris describes Crosby as "an absolutely brilliant campaign manager".

"I’ve never known anyone so good at motivating a campaign." He had "a thing called the pink cardigan", and "all these hordes of young people working for him". At the end of each day, he would throw the pink cardigan to someone who had “monstered the Labour Party or done something particularly distinguished".

As Gimson, the author of Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson, notes, this is a "rare example of Johnson agreeing with something that Cameron and Osborne want to do." He adds: "The appointment would be popular on the Tory back benches, which assume Crosby would treat the Liberal Democrats far more roughly than Cameron has done. In the mayoral elections, he proved expert at harvesting Lib Dem votes for Johnson."

Yet it is precisely these virtues (in the Tories' eyes) that mean Cameron is wary of recruiting Crosby. The appointment of the man behind the Tories' 2005 "Are you thinking what we're thinking?"campaign would be viewed as an act of wilful provocation by the Lib Dems. The fear in Downing Street is that the arrival of "the Wizard of Oz" would threaten the coalition's fragile truce.

Lynton Crosby, who ran Boris Johnson's 2008 and 2012 election campaigns. Sketch: Dan Murrell.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Could Labour lose the Oldham by-election?

Sources warn defeat is not unthinkable but the party's ground campaign believe they will hold on. 

As shadow cabinet members argue in public over Labour's position on Syria and John McDonnell defends his Mao moment, it has been easy to forget that the party next week faces its first election test since Jeremy Corbyn became leader. On paper, Oldham West and Royton should be a straightforward win. Michael Meacher, whose death last month triggered the by-election, held the seat with a majority of 14,738 just seven months ago. The party opted for an early pre-Christmas poll, giving second-placed Ukip less time to gain momentum, and selected the respected Oldham council leader Jim McMahon as its candidate. 

But in recent weeks Labour sources have become ever more anxious. Shadow cabinet members returning from campaigning report that Corbyn has gone down "very badly" with voters, with his original comments on shoot-to-kill particularly toxic. Most MPs expect the party's majority to lie within the 1,000-2,000 range. But one insider told me that the party's majority would likely fall into the hundreds ("I'd be thrilled with 2,000") and warned that defeat was far from unthinkable. The fear is that low turnout and defections to Ukip could allow the Farageists to sneak a win. MPs are further troubled by the likelihood that the contest will take place on the same day as the Syria vote (Thursday), which will badly divide Labour. 

The party's ground campaign, however, "aren't in panic mode", I'm told, with data showing them on course to hold the seat with a sharply reduced majority. As Tim noted in his recent report from the seat, unlike Heywood and Middleton, where Ukip finished just 617 votes behind Labour in a 2014 by-election, Oldham has a significant Asian population (accounting for 26.5 per cent of the total), which is largely hostile to Ukip and likely to remain loyal to Labour. 

Expectations are now so low that a win alone will be celebrated. But expect Corbyn's opponents to point out that working class Ukip voters were among the groups the Labour leader was supposed to attract. They are likely to credit McMahon with the victory and argue that the party held the seat in spite of Corbyn, rather than because of him. Ukip have sought to turn the contest into a referendum on the Labour leader's patriotism but McMahon replied: "My grandfather served in the army, my father and my partner’s fathers were in the Territorial Army. I raised money to restore my local cenotaph. On 18 December I will be going with pride to London to collect my OBE from the Queen and bring it back to Oldham as a local boy done good. If they want to pick a fight on patriotism, bring it on."  "If we had any other candidate we'd have been in enormous trouble," one shadow minister concluded. 

Of Corbyn, who cancelled a visit to the seat today, one source said: "I don't think Jeremy himself spends any time thinking about it, he doesn't think that electoral outcomes at this stage touch him somehow."  

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.