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 The Tories are offering the British people nothing but a failing plan based on an outdated and damaging philosophy that national success depends on the success of a privileged few at the top with working families dragged along behind.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.