Lady Warsi resigned last week. Photo: Getty
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Is the wizardry of Conservative strategist Lynton Crosby a myth?

Lady Warsi reminds the Tories of their problem with demographics. It is unclear whether the Conservatives have a long-term plan to adjust to the changing face of the British electorate.

Conservatives looking for reassurance about the next election often find it in the party's election director Lynton Crosby. The “Wizard of Oz” is praised with sorting out the Conservative machine, cutting out distractions and focusing relentlessly on honing an election-winning message.

Lady Warsi evidently is not so sure. “The electoral reality is that we will not win outright Conservative majorities until we start attracting more of the ethnic vote,” she said after her resignation last week. “We brought the BME groups into the mainstream campaign. Some of that has been lost, which is a shame.” She once thought of David Cameron as “a guy who gets today's Britain” but now believes that “the party leadership has shifted since then. I think over time it will be a regressive move because we have to appeal to all of Britain.”

Mark the date: 18 November 2012 was the day that the Cameron modernisation project, already floundering, was killed off for good. As the recruitment of Crosby was confirmed, so the tone of the Tory election campaign in 2015 was set. It would have little time for sunny conservatism.

Crosby clearly has a formidable record: steering John Howard’s Liberal Party to four election wins in Australia and running Boris Johnson's two successful campaigns for Mayor of London. But his wizardry can be overstated: he oversaw the shambolic Libertas campaign in the 2009 European elections (they won one seat in Europe). And then there was the 2005 Conservative general election campaign. It increased the Tory vote share by a miserly 0.7 per cent of the vote. The cost of the “Are you thinking what we’re thinking?” campaign can still be felt in the state of the Tory brand: 40 per cent of voters say they would never ever vote blue.

The 2005 election showed the limits of importing successful electioneering from Australian to Britain. Australia’s use of the Alternative Vote forces every voter into a straight choice, between the (conservative) Liberal Party and the Australian Labour party. Crucially, voting is also compulsory in Australia, which lends itself to negative campaigning: offering a compelling reason why the electorate should not plump for the alternative is enough.

Britain’s electoral dynamics are very different. We live in a multi-party world; even if the Tories are successful in attacking Labour’s electoral weaknesses on welfare and immigration, voters may plump for Ukip or the Lib Dems instead. 35 per cent of the electorate did not vote for anyone in 2010: they need a positive reason to bother. Relentless negativity is less effective as a campaigning technique when voters can choose whether or not to vote.

While Lady Warsi’s analysis is noteworthy as it comes from a former Cabinet member, it should contain nothing new to the Conservative Party. They only recorded 16 per cent of the ethnic minority vote in 2010, and it has become more significant since: in 2015, there will be 50 Conservative seats where Labour is second and the BME vote is larger than the Conservative majority.

Fifty years after Peter Griffiths was elected as MP for Smethwick with the help of the “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote for Labour” slogan, being an ethnic minority remains the single biggest determinant of not voting Conservative. John Major would not have won a majority in 1992 if the election was fought with British demographics as they are today. Had ethnic minorities been as likely to vote blue as the public at large in 2010, the Conservatives would have gained 500,000 extra votes - and a majority.

Yet there is little evidence of Crosby paying attention to such trends as the Conservatives continue to ratchet up their anti-immigration rhetoric. Changing tack would be contrary to the methods of his success in Australia. John Howard was triumphant in 2001 after launching his election campaign with a speech that declared: “We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”

Warsi is not the only one to recognise the central problem with the Conservative strategy for 2015. It rests on gaining a significantly increased share of the vote among a shrinking share of the electorate: a big reason why Labour retain a stubborn poll lead. And even if the Tories can become the largest party in 2015, the Crosby approach pays too little attention to what happens next. The Conservatives like to trumpet their long-term plan for the economy. It is unclear whether they have a long-term plan to adjust to the changing face of the British electorate.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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The NS leader: Cold Britannia

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. 

Twenty years after the election of New Labour, for the left, it seems, things can only get worse. The polls suggest a series of grim election defeats across Britain: Labour is 10 points behind the Conservatives even in Wales, putting Theresa May’s party on course to win a majority of seats there for the first time in a century. Meanwhile, in Scotland, the psephologist John Curtice expects the resurgent Tories, under the “centrist” leadership of Ruth Davidson, to gain seats while Labour struggles to cling on to its single MP.

Where did it all go wrong? In this week’s cover essay, beginning on page 26, John Harris traces the roots of Labour’s present troubles back to the scene of one of its greatest triumphs, on 1 May 1997, when it returned 418 MPs to the Commons and ended 18 years of Conservative rule. “Most pop-culture waves turn out to have been the advance party for a new mutation of capitalism, and so it proved with this one,” Mr Harris, one of the contributors to our New Times series, writes. “If Cool Britannia boiled down to anything, it was the birth of a London that by the early Noughties was becoming stupidly expensive and far too full of itself.”

Jump forward two decades and London is indeed now far too dominant in the British economy, sucking in a disproportionate number of graduates and immigrants and then expecting them to pay £4 for a milky coffee and £636,777 for an average house. Tackling the resentment caused by London’s dominance must be an urgent project for the Labour Party. It is one that Mr Corbyn and his key allies, John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry and Diane Abbott, are not well placed to do (all four are ultra-liberals who represent
London constituencies).

Labour must also find a happy relationship with patriotism, which lies beneath many of the other gripes made against Mr Corbyn: his discomfort with the institutions of the British state, his peacenik tendencies, his dislike of Nato and military alliances, his natural inclination towards transnational or foreign liberation movements, rather than seeking to evolve a popular national politics.

New Labour certainly knew how to wave the flag, even if the results made many on the left uncomfortable: on page 33, we republish our Leader from 2 May 1997, which complained about the “bulldog imagery” of Labour’s election campaign. Yet those heady weeks that followed Labour’s landslide victory were a time of optimism and renewal, when it was possible for people on the left to feel proud of their country and to celebrate its achievements, rather than just apologise for its mistakes. Today, Labour has become too reliant on misty invocations of the NHS to demonstrate that it likes or even understands the country it seeks to govern. A new patriotism, distinct from nationalism, is vital to any Labour revival.

That Tony Blair and his government have many detractors hardly needs to be said. The mistakes were grave: the catastrophic invasion of Iraq, a lax attitude to regulating the financial sector, a too-eager embrace of free-market globalisation, and the failure to impose transitional controls on immigration when eastern European states joined the EU. All contributed to the anger and disillusionment that led to the election as Labour leader of first the hapless Ed Miliband and then Jeremy Corbyn, a long-time rebel backbencher.

However, 20 years after the victory of the New Labour government, we should also acknowledge its successes, not least the minimum wage, education reform, Sure Start, a huge fall in pensioner poverty and investment in public services. Things did get better. They can do so again.

The far right halted

For once, the polls were correct. On 23 April, the centrist Emmanuel Macron triumphed in the first round of the French election with 24 per cent of the vote. The Front National’s Marine Le Pen came second with 21.3 per cent in an election in which the two main parties were routed. The two candidates will now face off on 7 May, and with the mainstream candidates of both left and right falling in behind Mr Macron, he will surely be France’s next president.

“There’s a clear distinction to be made between a political adversary and an enemy of the republic,” said Benoît Hamon, the candidate of the governing Parti Socialiste, who had strongly criticised Mr Macron during the campaign. “This is deadly serious now.” He is correct. Mr Macron may be a centrist rather than of the left but he is a democratic politician. Ms Le Pen is a borderline fascist and a victory for her would herald a dark future not just for France but for all of Europe. It is to Donald Trump’s deep shame that he appeared to endorse her on the eve of the vote.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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