Conservative election campaign manager Lynton Crosby arrives at Downing Street on October 16, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Without a record of delivery, the Tories are reliant on Crosby's campaign of division

The Conservatives' negative approach reveals a party bereft of ideas or empathy for working families.

As we approach an election that will determine the future of our country, David Cameron is leading a party of the past. A dark tide of negative campaigning heralds the return of nasty politics by the nasty party. The Tories are offering the British people nothing but a failing plan based on an outdated and damaging philosophy that national success depends on the success of a privileged few at the top with working families dragged along behind.

And it is now clear they are desperate to cling on to power by any means available. In recent days we have seen the extent to which the Tory campaign relies on a small pool of elite donors, having now taken £55m from hedge funds. We have seen concern grow over the intrusive proliferation of online attack adverts. We have seen the Tories embroiled in accusations that their staff have been plotting ways to smear Labour MPs. Theresa May has even been forced to urge her party to stay positive.

This is no surprise given Lynton Crosby is running the Tory campaign. And running it he is. Every strategic decision runs through the man who one cabinet minister joked "has replaced David Cameron as leader". Crosby campaigns are known for relying on personal attacks and a politics of fear. He has been described as "employing ruthless attack politics", deploying techniques that "dig out feelings of prejudice, fear, selfishness", and running campaigns described as "very nasty".

Take a few examples. Crosby directed the 2001 Australian federal election which was tainted by an incident in which the campaign falsely alleged that immigrants were throwing children overboard to gain access to Australia. The New Zealand 2005 election, which Crosby was involved in, came under fire for using a controversial billboard poster some called "racist". Crosby is currently involved in a court case in Australia involving accusations of push polling.

It is alarming, therefore, that the Conservatives seem to be running an off-the-shelf, identikit Crosby-Textor campaign. Recent Tory attack videos on Ed Miliband are almost identical to those used in the 2004 Liberal Party Campaign, on which Crosby worked as a consultant. The Tories are using the exact same design of graphics Crosby and Textor used for the National Party in the 2005 New Zealand election. "Competence vs Chaos" has become the central to the Tory campaign, but has apparently been directly lifted from language Mark Textor originally crafted for a New Zealand campaign. "Stay the course" is a common Cameron refrain, and this too was stolen from the September 2014 New Zealand election managed by Textor.

It is clear where the Tories' negative campaigning has its origins. From the "Go Home" vans to the personal attack videos with photoshopped images, from the scaremongering letters peddling falsehoods about Labour policy to Cameron's PR stunt in the home of people suspected of immigration offences, this is a campaign of smear and fear which is only going to descend further. When David Cameron talks about the choice at the next election remember the sight of Tory cabinet ministers lining up to back the Daily Mail in attacking Ed Miliband's late father.

Even Lord Gummer has said of the Tories' activity that it "seems to be far too close to American and Australian name calling, which is so unpleasant and so counterproductive." The Tories' plan has failed and so they are relying on negative campaigning. They cannot run on a record of delivery so they are running a campaign of division. They have raised election spending limits to give them maximum advantage with their elite donors. They changed voter registration rules, which has shut young people out of voting. And now they are relying on attempts to slur their opponents.

Whilst Labour of course warns against the dangers of five more years of the Tories, we are also putting forward a better plan for a better future. In recent days we have laid out our plan to build prosperity and raise living standards for all, announced our policy to protect education spending above Tory plans and revealed the growth in our small donations. We will not stoop to the Tories' depths. We will not fight the election by Aussie Rules. Our campaign is not based on big money or speaking over the heads of the British people. We are fighting this election on the ground with millions of doorstep conversations in which we will look voters in the eye and seek to rebuild trust in politics, town by town, street by street.

The Tories' Crosby campaign reveals a party bereft of ideas or empathy for working families. There is a choice at the next election: only Labour has a plan for a better future.

Lucy Powell is vice chair of Labour's general election campaign and shadow minister for the Cabinet Office.

Lucy Powell is MP for Manchester Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Education. 

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The economics of outrage: Why you haven't seen the end of Katie Hopkins

Her distasteful tweet may have cost her a job at LBC, but this isn't the last we've seen of Britain's biggest troll. 

Another atrocity, other surge of grief and fear, and there like clockwork was the UK’s biggest troll. Hours after the explosion at the Manchester Arena that killed 22 mostly young and female concert goers, Katie Hopkins weighed in with a very on-brand tweet calling for a “final solution” to the complex issue of terrorism.

She quickly deleted it, replacing the offending phrase with the words “true solution”, but did not tone down the essentially fascist message. Few thought it had been an innocent mistake on the part of someone unaware of the historical connotations of those two words.  And no matter how many urged their fellow web users not to give Hopkins the attention she craved, it still sparked angry tweets, condemnatory news articles and even reports to the police.

Hopkins has lost her presenting job at LBC radio, but she is yet to lose her column at Mail Online, and it’s quite likely she won’t.

Mail Online and its print counterpart The Daily Mail have regularly shown they are prepared to go down the deliberately divisive path Hopkins was signposting. But even if the site's managing editor Martin Clarke was secretly a liberal sandal-wearer, there are also very good economic reasons for Mail Online to stick with her. The extreme and outrageous is great at gaining attention, and attention is what makes money for Mail Online.

It is ironic that Hopkins’s career was initially helped by TV’s attempts to provide balance. Producers could rely on her to provide a counterweight to even the most committed and rational bleeding-heart liberal.

As Patrick Smith, a former media specialist who is currently a senior reporter at BuzzFeed News points out: “It’s very difficult for producers who are legally bound to be balanced, they will sometimes literally have lawyers in the room.”

“That in a way is why some people who are skirting very close or beyond the bounds of taste and decency get on air.”

But while TV may have made Hopkins, it is online where her extreme views perform best.  As digital publishers have learned, the best way to get the shares, clicks and page views that make them money is to provoke an emotional response. And there are few things as good at provoking an emotional response as extreme and outrageous political views.

And in many ways it doesn’t matter whether that response is negative or positive. Those who complain about what Hopkins says are also the ones who draw attention to it – many will read what she writes in order to know exactly why they should hate her.

Of course using outrageous views as a sales tactic is not confined to the web – The Daily Mail prints columns by Sarah Vine for a reason - but the risks of pushing the boundaries of taste and decency are greater in a linear, analogue world. Cancelling a newspaper subscription or changing radio station is a simpler and often longer-lasting act than pledging to never click on a tempting link on Twitter or Facebook. LBC may have had far more to lose from sticking with Hopkins than Mail Online does, and much less to gain. Someone prepared to say what Hopkins says will not be out of work for long. 

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