By Tim Montgomerie
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The tone of the Tory campaign in Lib/Con seats will largely be positive but its aim is clear – to kill off the Lib Dem parliamentary party in large parts of the country.
The Spectator's James Forsyth posted a significant story yesterday – revealing that 20 of the Conservatives' top 40 target seats are held by the Liberal Democrats. 10 of the 40 seats in the 40/40 strategy have been named so far and only two of them were LD-held. That means 18 of the next 30 seats to be named will be for blue-on-yellow battles.
ConHome warmly welcomes this decision. We feared that for reasons of Coalition management the party might hold back from taking this decision. When the battleground strategy was first drafted – only six months ago – only 28% of fifty target seats were to be LD held. Now it's 50% of forty target seats. Perhaps Nick Clegg's decision to veto boundary reform communicated that he intended to act in his party's self-interest and the Conservative Party has also now decided to play hardball?
Although individual Lib Dem MPs will do better than the national polls suggest – because of incumbency effects and perhaps because of targeting of LD resources – we've long argued that the next election represents our party's best opportunity in a generation to reverse the third party's incursions into the Tory heartland, began in 1997 and continued since. A YouGov poll earlier this week underlined the decline in trust in the Lib Dems since the last election. They are at a maximum moment of vulnerability that we must exploit.
The Tory strategy in the Lib Dem seats will be based around the strategy pursued since 2005 – 'lovebombing'. The thrust of Tory literature in Lib/Con seats won't be to point out the Lib Dems' out-of-mainstream views on Europe, human rights laws, immigration and crime (although those messages will be deployed) but will focus on the positive case for the Conservative Party – especially on local conservation, protection of pensions, support for fighting hunger overseas, help for the low-paid at home and above all, David Cameron's commitment to the NHS.
By selecting now – in the middle point of the parliament – the Tories hope to maximise the advantage of early selection. By the time of the election the aim is for the Tory candidates' names to be very well known in every marginal ward.