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25 April 2015

The Conservative campaign: disingenous and dangerous – but what if it works?

The Tory campaign is putting that party's own principles in the shredder - but if it works, they could shut Labour out for decades.

By Stephen Bush

From a moral perspective, there is very little that is good to say about the Conservative campaign. A party that campaigned for the first past the post electoral system just four years ago now claims that same system would be “illegitimate” if it puts Ed Miliband in power. A party that argued, under a year ago, that Scotland could make its voice heard at Westminster now wants Scots to keep their mouths firmly shut. The message it sends to Scottish voters is clear: we don’t want you here, bog off. They double as adverts for the SNP, not just in the coming election but in the second referendum.

And from a technical perspective, it does make you wonder just why the Tories are giving Lynton Crosby quite so much money to run their campaign. Yes, the anti-SNP attacks are beginning to be felt in marginal seats, largely by squeezing the Ukip vote to Tory advantage, but ask yourself this: what would the Conservative campaign be without the SNP surge? Make no mistake: this is a desperate last throw by a political machine that has run out of road.

But what if it works? What if, at the last, the Scot-bashing triggers a late swing away from Ukip and towards the Conservatives, enough to keep the Tories above the 290 mark and very probably in Downing Street? What happens to Labour then?

Make no mistake, Scotland is not coming back to Labour any time soon. The SNP has more than 1000 activists in their constituency, and the biggest advantage over Labour isn’t in the army of doorknockers and canvassers that represents, although that can’t be sniffed at. It also means that, in the words of one candidate, “No one is more than two degrees of separation from a separatist”. It is now about as normal to be a member of the SNP as it is to watch Doctor Who in Scotland. There is a very real chance that it becomes counter-cultural to vote anything other than SNP not just for the moment but for the foreseeable future.

Organizationally, too, it’s not clear how Labour will be able to rebuild itself. “How do you win back a country with one or two MPs and no councilors?” one parliamentary candidate asked me recently. That, increasingly, is the best case scenario.

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There is no reason why a majority cannot be found for Labour in England and Wales. As one MP noted: “It’s 89% of the electorate. If we can’t find a majority there, we should give up.” But if the Conservatives succeed in suppressing the Labour vote in English and Welsh seats on May 7, there’s no reason to believe they won’t be able to do so in five years time. Or five years after.

Nasty as it is, if the Tory campaign succeeds, there’s no reason to believe that it won’t trap Labour in permanent opposition, in England and in Scotland, not just for the next five years but the next fifty.

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