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 Chief Executive of Radix, the think tank for the radical centre.

Photo: Getty
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Like it or hate it, it doesn't matter: Brexit is happening, and we've got to make a success of it

It's time to stop complaining and start campaigning, says Stella Creasy.

A shortage of Marmite, arguments over exporting jam and angry Belgians. And that’s just this month.  As the Canadian trade deal stalls, and the government decides which cottage industry its will pick next as saviour for the nation, the British people are still no clearer getting an answer to what Brexit actually means. And they are also no clearer as to how they can have a say in how that question is answered.

To date there have been three stages to Brexit. The first was ideological: an ever-rising euroscepticism, rooted in a feeling that the costs the compromises working with others require were not comparable to the benefits. It oozed out, almost unnoticed, from its dormant home deep in the Labour left and the Tory right, stoked by Ukip to devastating effect.

The second stage was the campaign of that referendum itself: a focus on immigration over-riding a wider debate about free trade, and underpinned by the tempting and vague claim that, in an unstable, unfair world, control could be taken back. With any deal dependent on the agreement of twenty eight other countries, it has already proved a hollow victory.

For the last few months, these consequences of these two stages have dominated discussion, generating heat, but not light about what happens next. Neither has anything helped to bring back together those who feel their lives are increasingly at the mercy of a political and economic elite and those who fear Britain is retreating from being a world leader to a back water.

Little wonder the analogy most commonly and easily reached for by commentators has been that of a divorce. They speculate our coming separation from our EU partners is going to be messy, combative and rancorous. Trash talk from some - including those in charge of negotiating -  further feeds this perception. That’s why it is time for all sides to push onto Brexit part three: the practical stage. How and when is it actually going to happen?

A more constructive framework to use than marriage is one of a changing business, rather than a changing relationship. Whatever the solid economic benefits of EU membership, the British people decided the social and democratic costs had become too great. So now we must adapt.

Brexit should be as much about innovating in what we make and create as it is about seeking to renew our trading deals with the world. New products must be sought alongside new markets. This doesn’t have to mean cutting corners or cutting jobs, but it does mean being prepared to learn new skills and invest in helping those in industries that are struggling to make this leap to move on. The UK has an incredible and varied set of services and products to offer the world, but will need to focus on what we do well and uniquely here to thrive. This is easier said than done, but can also offer hope. Specialising and skilling up also means we can resist those who want us to jettison hard-won environmental and social protections as an alternative. 

Most accept such a transition will take time. But what is contested is that it will require openness. However, handing the public a done deal - however well mediated - will do little to address the division within our country. Ensuring the best deal in a way that can garner the public support it needs to work requires strong feedback channels. That is why transparency about the government's plans for Brexit is so important. Of course, a balance needs to be struck with the need to protect negotiating positions, but scrutiny by parliament- and by extension the public- will be vital. With so many differing factors at stake and choices to be made, MPs have to be able and willing to bring their constituents into the discussion not just about what Brexit actually entails, but also what kind of country Britain will be during and after the result - and their role in making it happen. 

Those who want to claim the engagement of parliament and the public undermines the referendum result are still in stages one and two of this debate, looking for someone to blame for past injustices, not building a better future for all. Our Marmite may be safe for the moment, but Brexit can’t remain a love it or hate it phenomenon. It’s time for everyone to get practical.