By Tim Montgomerie
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week in Birmingham I presented a ten step plan to deliver the first
Conservative majority since 1992. The plan is summarised on the new StrongAndCompassionate.com website. Parts one, two, three, four, five, six and seven have already been published.
(8) Concerted attacks on Labour as a party unable to
take tough economic decisions and on the wrong side of mainstream Britain’s
One of the reasons why political parties
deploy so much negative advertising is that the public is much more persuaded
by it than positive campaigning. If a candidate declares that her party will
spend £1 billion more on better roads people are sceptical. If that very same candidate
says that the opposition will cut roads spending by £1 billion the public is so
suspicious of politicians that they might well believe it. It’s when negative
advertising descends into personal or obviously exaggerated forms then it
becomes counter-productive. The 1997 Tory attacks on Tony Blair – which painted
him with devil eyes – fell into this trap. Another weakness of that period was
the lack of consistency in the Tory message. Conservative HQ couldn’t decide
whether Tony Blair was a wolf in sheep’s clothing or if he was an empty suit.
One week the Tories were suggesting Mr Blair was an opportunist who believed in
nothing and the next week they were suggesting he had a secret agenda to
transform Britain for the worse. Blair joked that his opponents couldn’t decide
if he was Bambi or Stalin. The public found the attacks unbelievable.
If any election is simply a referendum on
the incumbent’s performance then the incumbent is vulnerable. The Tories have
to turn the next election into a choice and that means some ruthless and
relentless attention on the weaknesses of Labour. The successful attacks must
follow four key principles:
THEY SHOULD BE SERIOUS: These are difficult
times for the country. We shouldn’t trivialise what is at stake.
THEY SHOULD NOT BE PERSONAL: It’s
legitimate to attack Ed Miliband and Labour for ducking tough decisions on the
deficit. It’s not legitimate to make personal attacks on his character or
THEY SHOULD BE FOCUSED: Initial polling for
ConservativeHome suggests that Labour’s three key weaknesses are (1) their
continuing reputation as a party of higher spending, higher taxes and higher
borrowing and one which hasn’t learnt from the mistakes of the Brown years; (2)
the gap in values between the metropolitan elite at the top of the Labour Party
that opposes tough action on welfare, crime and immigration and the views of
Labour’s heartland vote; and (3) a general sense that the Labour leadership is
too weak for these tough times.
THEY SHOULD USE SURROGATES: People believe
third parties more than politicians. Conservative HQ must work hard to ensure
that it is business leaders who are questioning Labour’s economic plans.
Parents’ groups who are attacking Labour’s education agenda and representatives
of taxpayers who are targeting Labour’s welfare agenda. A comprehensive
investment in third party and external relations should be being made by the
Conservative Party now in preparation for the attack period.