David Cameron has appointed Lynton Crosby, the man behind Boris Johnson's successful reelection campaign in London, to be his general election strategist. The Sunday Times (£) reports that he will start working for the PM part-time in January before "going full-time in the run-up to the election" (it doesn't say when exactly).
Crosby is apparently known as the "Wizard of Oz", because of his nationality and his election successes. But he's also known for his "willingness to campaign on the issue of immigration", as Andrew Gimson's profile of Crosby in the New Statesman last week reported. Gimson wrote:
Many on the left would take the appointment of this rough-tongued Australian as proof that the Conservatives had “lurched to the right”... Placing him in charge of the Tory machine would be treated as confirmation of a general coarsening, with the leadership adopting a narrow, retrograde and ultimately hopeless strategy of appealing to white-van man.
But will Crosby's tactics work nationwide? He was involved in Michael Howard's 2005 campaign, including the heavy focus on immigration (remember "are you thinking what we're thinking?") but Tony Blair successfully denigrated Howard for "exploiting people's fears" and the rest is painful Tory history. According to Gimson, "Crosby denied after the campaign that he had used a 'dog whistle' to send surreptitious messages: 'It was more like a foghorn.'"
Inspite of that, Boris Johnson reportedly told Cameron and Osborne to do anything possible to get Crosby on the 2015 election campaign: “Push the boat out, break the piggy bank, kill the fatted calf.” It would seem they have done so.
What has not been reported though, is just how much they have delved into the piggy bank. Gimson again:
If Crosby is to come and work again for the Tories, he wants to be paid a huge sum of money, to compensate him for the lucrative lobbying work he would otherwise be doing. He also insists on complete control of the campaign, including the polling that will help to inform it.
Look out for issues of command and control over other elements of the party and No 10 operation, then, if Crosby has indeed been granted his wishes before coming on board.
Aside from the Australian's so-called past "dog whistle" tactics, he is today accused by the Mail on Sunday of having made "racist remarks" about Muslims during Boris's campaign.
Simon Walters reports:
According to a source, Mr Crosby said Mr Johnson should concentrate on traditional Tory voters instead of ‘f****** Muslims’. The source added: ‘He definitely used that phrase’ and said: ‘Lynton’s view was that chasing the Muslim vote and other ethnic groups was a waste of time – and he frequently expressed himself in very strong terms. Some people found it very offensive.’
In a statement last night a spokesman for Mr Crosby said he had ‘absolutely no recollection’ of using the term.
Keen to trouble-make for Cameron as ever, the MoS has even splashed on the story:
Whatever the rights and wrongs of this particular incident, Crosby's reputation for "playing the race card" seems likely to haunt him as he starts work on the mammoth task of securing a Conservative majority for Cameron in 2015 - not quite what DC will have had in mind when appointing him, I'm sure.