By Tim Montgomerie
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In yesterday's Daily Mail I wrote about the Leader of the Opposition. You can read the piece here.
Over at Liberal Conspiracy Sunny Hundal objected to my credentials and my arguments. Let me briefly respond to a few of his points…
SH: "Tim Montgomerie of ConservativeHome is unfailingly polite in person and clearly a very good editor…"
You are too kind Sunny.
SH: "…I’m not convinced by his political nous though…"
Oh. In other words; I'm nice but a bit dim :-)
SH: "…After all, he was convinced the Conservatives failed to win a majority in 2010 because they didn’t push hard enough on immigration – a claim rejected by Lord Ashcroft himself rather convincingly."
Downplaying the immigration issue was just one of at least a dozen weaknesses I identified in the Tory election campaign and certainly not the most important one. It is true that Lord Ashcroft doesn't agree with me on the role of immigration at the last election but he does agree with the overall thrust of the ConHome assessment of the 2010 election campaign. It's also notable that David Cameron made a big immigration speech ahead of this year's local elections.
SH: "The most interesting revelation is that Lord Ashcroft is preparing to publish detailed research into the Labour party (titled ‘Red Alert’) as he did recently with the Tories. I’m not sure why we should trust Ashcroft will release all of his research though; he may keep key (positive or strategically useful) nuggets to himself."
I don't think he'll do that. Lord Ashcroft's forthcoming "Red Alert" report is part of a continuing series of reports that are part of his fascination with politics and good market research. He has published reports that make uncomfortable reading for David Cameron (eg on crime) and my prediction is that his report on Labour will give Ed Miliband very useful advice on how he can reach target voters. I, personally, might prefer Michael not to be giving such public and potentially helpful advice to Labour but I bet he will. Whatever his personal politics he always tries to follow the data.
SH: "‘Red Ed’ failed badly, so the next tactic is what Montgomerie always wanted for Brown: to paint him simply mentally / physically deficient. As you can tell, they’re trying their best to rid themselves of the ‘Nasty Party’ label."
The Red Ed strategy hasn't failed. Among target voters the Tory leadership has a 48% lead on the economy and that's because the two Eds are prisoners of the public sector and are unable to embrace the fiscal responsibility that responsible voters demand.
In terms of the accusation that I want to paint the Labour leader as "simply mental" there's no evidence for that. In my Mail article I quoted what voters were saying about Ed in Tory focus groups. I went out of my way to say that their judgments might be "unfair to a man who is privately charming" but the reality is that voters are saying harsh things about Miliband;
‘We can’t see him on the steps of Downing Street.’
‘They picked the wrong brother.’
‘He hasn’t done anything outside politics.’
‘He only got married because he thinks it’ll win him votes’.
Leader image is of course only one determinant of elections but Labour supporters would be sensible not to shoot the messenger.
SH: "Cameron has been leader and in power for longer, and I can cite a whole raft of polls that say he is: out of touch; only concerned with the rich; fake (airbrushed posters anyone?) and just interested in stunts (hug a huskie/hoodie?)."
It's true that Cameron has some negative ratings but Ed Miliband's ratings are much worse. Don't take my word for it. Peter Watt has written about Cameron's relative advantage (and has warned against class-based attacks). So has John McTernan… and they're both from the Left.
SH: "[Tim Montgomerie] carries on: "Ed Miliband’s biggest mistake has been his failure to reform his party or its message. There’s been no apology for the excessive and wasteful spending of the Labour government of which he was such a central figure. There’s been no apology for uncontrolled immigration." I’m truly shocked that a notable Tory figure would like the Labour party to endorse what Tories have been saying."
I obviously don't expect Labour to become exactly like the Conservatives but it is necessary for Labour to break free of the public sector interests that explain why aspirational voters in the south are still not supporting Labour (see the first bullet point in this Rob Hayward piece). Lord Ashcroft (yes, him again), with his first polling on the challenge facing Labour, set out some of what needed to be done.
SH: "Tories are now nearly non-existent in most major cities across the country. If they think that is the “best election” performance for 30 years, then they’re more deluded than I thought."
It's a fact that the Tories had the best elections performance of any new government for thirty years but I readily agree that the Tories have big weaknesses in the north and urban Britain.
SH: "The ‘Ed Balls has him surrounded’ narrative shows how little Tim Montgomerie knows about what’s going on in Labour. The chances of Ed B attempting a coup for the top job are nearly non-existent."
That's good news because from a Tory point of view I'm very happy for Ed Miliband to remain Labour leader.
I'll finish with the conclusion of Lord Ashcroft's first piece of research into Labour's challenge: "Ed Miliband can't become PM if he listens to the Labour movement." He could have been thinking of Sunny Hundal.