Why Labour and the Lib Dems should be lining up to praise Lynton Crosby

Both parties’ interests lie in the Conservatives' campaign strategist sticking around. He can't win over the liberal voters the Tories need for victory.

Following on from the cigarette packaging imbroglio, in which it was alleged that Lynton Crosby might just have lobbied the Prime Minster about the way that tobacco was sold and enacted a shift in government policy, another Crosby-related scandal has hit the headlines. This one centres on whether or not the Conservative campaign strategist tried to influence the future of the NHS. Of course, Labour has pounced on these morsels, demanding Cameron deliver Crosby's head. But while the desire to make short-term hay over the scandals might be irresistible (and has thus far been treated that way by both Labour and the Lib Dems), those parties who will be fighting the Tories come 2015 should think carefully about long-term strategy.

There is every danger that the current calls for Crosby to be sacked may result in that very event taking place, which would then allow the Conservatives to hire someone to run their general election campaign in a way that would give them at least half a chance of winning. 

Shane Warne once said of England leg spinner Monty Panesar that Monty hadn’t played in 33 test matches – he’d played the same test match 33 times. The same is true of the way Crosby runs election campaigns. They all flow from the same idea that everyone, secretly, deep down, is extremely right-wing and reactionary, and all that’s needed to bring it out is a little healthy nudging via an air war. To be fair to him, this sort of thing has worked in Australia, where he won four successive victories for the Liberal Party (who are perhaps the most misnamed political party in history. The core of their beliefs revolve around social conservatism. It would be like the Greens deciding to rebrand themselves as the Oil Industry Lobby Party). But I think it will be a disaster for the Tories in 2015. If you look at their target seats – Lab-Con marginals in the midlands, Con-Lib marginals in the south west – it would hand the parties they would be facing a gift. Vote Tory, Get Loony.

In the spring of 2008, I dined with a Tory friend who spent most of the meal espousing how the recent financial crash was an opportunity for Cameron to modernise the Conservatives, to run in the next general election on a platform of fiscal conservatism combined with a social liberalism that reflected modern Britain. I replied that while the opportunity was certainly there, Cameron would always remain too scared of the right of his party, the Bill Cashes and Peter Bones of this world, to go fully in any sort of liberal direction, a prediction that proved correct. I joked to my friend that night, "Maybe one day Cameron will even hire Lynton Crosby to run a general election campaign for him". My Tory friend laughed as if that was the least likely thing possible. How times change.

So beware, o ye lefties, about what you wish for. The Tories are headed for disaster with Crosby at the helm. Calling for them to change course may make them do just that.

Lynton Crosby, who was recently appointed as the Conservatives' election campaign manager after running Boris Johnson's re-election campaign.

Nick Tyrone is associate director, external affairs, at Centre Forum.

Photo: Getty Images
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The Fire Brigades Union reaffiliates to Labour - what does it mean?

Any union rejoining Labour will be welcomed by most in the party - but the impact on the party's internal politics will be smaller than you think.

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has voted to reaffiliate to the Labour party, in what is seen as a boost to Jeremy Corbyn. What does it mean for Labour’s internal politics?

Firstly, technically, the FBU has never affliated before as they are notionally part of the civil service - however, following the firefighters' strike in 2004, they decisively broke with Labour.

The main impact will be felt on the floor of Labour party conference. Although the FBU’s membership – at around 38,000 – is too small to have a material effect on the outcome of votes themselves, it will change the tenor of the motions put before party conference.

The FBU’s leadership is not only to the left of most unions in the Trades Union Congress (TUC), it is more inclined to bring motions relating to foreign affairs than other unions with similar politics (it is more internationalist in focus than, say, the PCS, another union that may affiliate due to Corbyn’s leadership). Motions on Israel/Palestine, the nuclear deterrent, and other issues, will find more support from FBU delegates than it has from other affiliated trade unions.

In terms of the balance of power between the affiliated unions themselves, the FBU’s re-entry into Labour politics is unlikely to be much of a gamechanger. Trade union positions, elected by trade union delegates at conference, are unlikely to be moved leftwards by the reaffiliation of the FBU. Unite, the GMB, Unison and Usdaw are all large enough to all-but-guarantee themselves a seat around the NEC. Community, a small centrist union, has already lost its place on the NEC in favour of the bakers’ union, which is more aligned to Tom Watson than Jeremy Corbyn.

Matt Wrack, the FBU’s General Secretary, will be a genuine ally to Corbyn and John McDonnell. Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis were both bounced into endorsing Corbyn by their executives and did so less than wholeheartedly. Tim Roache, the newly-elected General Secretary of the GMB, has publicly supported Corbyn but is seen as a more moderate voice at the TUC. Only Dave Ward of the Communication Workers’ Union, who lent staff and resources to both Corbyn’s campaign team and to the parliamentary staff of Corbyn and McDonnell, is truly on side.

The impact of reaffiliation may be felt more keenly in local parties. The FBU’s membership looks small in real terms compared Unite and Unison have memberships of over a million, while the GMB and Usdaw are around the half-a-million mark, but is much more impressive when you consider that there are just 48,000 firefighters in Britain. This may make them more likely to participate in internal elections than other affiliated trade unionists, just 60,000 of whom voted in the Labour leadership election in 2015. However, it is worth noting that it is statistically unlikely most firefighters are Corbynites - those that are will mostly have already joined themselves. The affiliation, while a morale boost for many in the Labour party, is unlikely to prove as significant to the direction of the party as the outcome of Unison’s general secretary election or the struggle for power at the top of Unite in 2018. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.