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.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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