Following on from the cigarette packaging imbroglio, in which it was alleged that Lynton Crosby might just have lobbied the Prime Minster about the way that tobacco was sold and enacted a shift in government policy, another Crosby-related scandal has hit the headlines. This one centres on whether or not the Conservative campaign strategist tried to influence the future of the NHS. Of course, Labour has pounced on these morsels, demanding Cameron deliver Crosby’s head. But while the desire to make short-term hay over the scandals might be irresistible (and has thus far been treated that way by both Labour and the Lib Dems), those parties who will be fighting the Tories come 2015 should think carefully about long-term strategy.
There is every danger that the current calls for Crosby to be sacked may result in that very event taking place, which would then allow the Conservatives to hire someone to run their general election campaign in a way that would give them at least half a chance of winning.
Shane Warne once said of England leg spinner Monty Panesar that Monty hadn’t played in 33 test matches – he’d played the same test match 33 times. The same is true of the way Crosby runs election campaigns. They all flow from the same idea that everyone, secretly, deep down, is extremely right-wing and reactionary, and all that’s needed to bring it out is a little healthy nudging via an air war. To be fair to him, this sort of thing has worked in Australia, where he won four successive victories for the Liberal Party (who are perhaps the most misnamed political party in history. The core of their beliefs revolve around social conservatism. It would be like the Greens deciding to rebrand themselves as the Oil Industry Lobby Party). But I think it will be a disaster for the Tories in 2015. If you look at their target seats – Lab-Con marginals in the midlands, Con-Lib marginals in the south west – it would hand the parties they would be facing a gift. Vote Tory, Get Loony.
In the spring of 2008, I dined with a Tory friend who spent most of the meal espousing how the recent financial crash was an opportunity for Cameron to modernise the Conservatives, to run in the next general election on a platform of fiscal conservatism combined with a social liberalism that reflected modern Britain. I replied that while the opportunity was certainly there, Cameron would always remain too scared of the right of his party, the Bill Cashes and Peter Bones of this world, to go fully in any sort of liberal direction, a prediction that proved correct. I joked to my friend that night, “Maybe one day Cameron will even hire Lynton Crosby to run a general election campaign for him”. My Tory friend laughed as if that was the least likely thing possible. How times change.
So beware, o ye lefties, about what you wish for. The Tories are headed for disaster with Crosby at the helm. Calling for them to change course may make them do just that.