By Tim Montgomerie
Follow Tim on Twitter
When Peter Oborne takes up a cause he does so with all guns blazing. He takes no prisoners. There's no grey in his world – only black and only white. He is never knowingly understated. He's not always consistent either. His target today was Lynton Crosby. Apparently if Cameron recruits Mr Crosby to be his campaign chief it would "mean a terrible defeat for everything that Cameron has stood for as leader". Yes, "everything"! The column was a great read – as Peter's columns always are – but it was 95% heat and 5% light.
Paul Goodman has put the need for a campaign strategist in a broader context but I'm already on the record for arguing that Lynton Crosby should be recruited and recruited quickly. I'm returning to the issue because I think recruiting Lynton matters and it matters a lot. Here are three big reasons why Mr Oborne is so wrong in what he wrote today:
- Peter seems to assume that Michael Howard's 2005 Tory campaign was all Lynton's idea. It wasn't. Lynton inherited a largely fixed policy agenda – especially on the economy. Yes, he prioritised certain policies over others (perhaps too much?) but he arrived late in the election cycle and to borrow one of his key phrases – you can't fatten a pig on market day.
- Peter misses Lynton Crosby's key strength. What Crosby is good at is implementation. He's a campaign chief. He fixes on the key messages and then ensures they are pursued relentlessly and professionally. He doesn't get distracted by trivia in the media. He worries about the overall coverage in the newspapers but doesn't fret about winning every day's headlines. He knows that much that obsesses the political lobby does not matter. He's focused on public opinion and not pundit opinion. He brings discipline and competence to a campaign. Junior staffers enjoy working with him. He's fought enough campaigns to know not to panic. At the last election Team Cameron had noone in charge. That must not happen next time and it is better the problem is resolved sooner rather than later.
- Nobody is proposing that we refight the 2005 campaign. Crosby isn't. Michael Howard isn't. The so-called Tory Right isn't. I certainly am not. There is no question of junking "everything" Cameron has stood for. I haven't spoken to Lynton since May but I guess he would regard Cameron's three budding achievements – on deficit reduction, welfare reform and school standards – as necessarily central features of the next election campaign. There'll be no big retreat from the big successes of the Cameron years. What there will be will be an understanding of the striving classes – the blue collar workers analysed recently in Lord Ashcroft's important pre-Conference mega poll. Lynton would bring a tabloid-sense to Cameronism that has been missing since Andy Coulson left. That's not a repudiation of Cameronism but necessary to make Cameronism as good as it should be.
In my last blog on Lynton Crosby I expressed a couple of reservations about some of his record but Oborne's column today was nonsense on stilts from beginning to end. I hope Number 10 filed it in the waste paper bin where it belonged.