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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The Home Office made Theresa May. But it could still destroy her

Even politicians who leave the Home Office a success may find themselves dogged by it. 

Good morning. When Theresa May left the Home Office for the last time, she told civil servants that there would always be a little bit of the Home Office inside her.

She meant in terms of its enduring effect on her, but today is a reminder of its enduring ability to do damage on her reputation in the present day.

The case of Jamal al-Harith, released from Guantanamo Bay under David Blunkett but handed a £1m compensation payout under Theresa May, who last week died in a suicide bomb attack on Iraqi forces in Mosul, where he was fighting on behalf of Isis. 

For all Blunkett left in the wake of a scandal, his handling of the department was seen to be effective and his reputation was enhanced, rather than diminished, by his tenure. May's reputation as a "safe pair of hands" in the country, as "one of us" on immigration as far as the Conservative right is concerned and her credibility as not just another headbanger on stop and search all come from her long tenure at the Home Office. 

The event was the cue for the Mail to engage in its preferred sport of Blair-bashing. It’s all his fault for the payout – which in addition to buying al-Harith a house may also have fattened the pockets of IS – and the release. Not so fast, replied Blair in a punchy statement: didn’t you campaign for him to be released, and wasn’t the payout approved by your old pal Theresa May? (I paraphrase slightly.)

That resulted in a difficult Q&A for Downing Street’s spokesman yesterday, which HuffPo’s Paul Waugh has posted in full here. As it was May’s old department which has the job of keeping tabs on domestic terror threats the row rebounds onto her. 

Blair is right to say that every government has to “balance proper concern for civil liberties with desire to protect our security”. And it would be an act of spectacular revisionism to declare that Blair’s government was overly concerned with civil liberty rather than internal security.

Whether al-Harith should never have been freed or, as his family believe, was picked up by mistake before being radicalised in prison is an open question. Certainly the journey from wrongly-incarcerated fellow traveller to hardened terrorist is one that we’ve seen before in Northern Ireland and may have occurred here.

Regardless, the presumption of innocence is an important one but it means that occasionally, that means that someone goes on to commit crimes again. (The case of Ian Stewart, convicted of murdering the author Helen Bailey yesterday, and who may have murdered his first wife Diane Stewart as well, is another example of this.)

Nonetheless, May won’t have got that right every time. Her tenure at the Home Office, so crucial to her reputation as a “safe pair of hands”, may yet be weaponised by a clever rival, whether from inside or outside the Conservative Party. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.