The review into the Conservative general election campaign, headed by Eric Pickes and Graham Brady, will be presented to the National Convention in less than a month, during its annual Party Conference meeting. ConservativeHome is told that Sir Eric is unlikely to favour a report of Dostoevskyian length. Such a document would most likely provide a mass of damning quotes to hang around Theresa May’s neck, which the loyalist former Party Chairman and his colleagues have no interest in supplying.
This is not to say that they will fling a bucket of whitewash over the campaign’s failures. We gather that Sir Eric is likely to stress recommendations over reportage; better that way round, he will think, than the reverse. He and Brady are two of the four members of the quartet in charge of the review. Rob Semple, the Chairman of the National Convention, and Nus Ghani complete the team. This site has previously reported that Mick Davis, the Party’s Chief Executive, will present the report to the convention.
Inevitably, not everyone is happy. Some party members claim not to have received the online survey about the campaign that was promised, and there are complaints about the timing of some of the regional meetings called to discuss it. (Members who work can’t easily make daytime events, if they can make them at all.) At any rate, the review team have a lot of meetings to complete between now and early October, when we will see what proof of the pudding there is for eating.
One of the key decisions that the review team will have to make is what to do with an investigation of what happened in May carried out by Crosby Textor. This site understands that Lynton Crosby’s outfit, which helped to deliver a Conservative majority in 2015 but failed to help increase it this year, is undertaking an audit of, as a CCHQ source puts it, “what happened and why”. Furthermore, Crosby Textor is undertaking focus group work for the Party going forward.
This is not to say that Crosby Textor will write the Pickles/Brady report. The latter will decide what is contained in the review. It would not even be accurate to say that Crosby Textor are marking their own homework, since assessments of the campaign from other sources will also be put before the review team. It has been reported that Rob Hayward, who called the 2015 result correctly, will be reviewing the party’s data performance.
None the less, a question arises about this continuing work of Crosby Textor for CCHQ: namely, should it be happening at all? This site has no particular view of whether the firm should undertake polling and research for the Party. In 2015, Sir Lynton and his team had been in place for some time, and David Cameron won a majority. In 2017, they had not been, and the Conservatives lost seats. There is an argument for the Party taking a formal decision to make Crosby Textor a permanent part of the CCHQ furniture.
There is no case, however, for drift – for the firm to simply carry on working for CCHQ as though nothing much has changed since last June’s disappointment. The use of a firm both to help run a campaign and to poll on how it was working was always questionable. The first post-election meeting of political Cabinet agreed an independent review of June’s campaign after pressure from Philip Hammond and others. That aspiration would have been better met by bringing in a new broom to oversee the audit.
There is more here at stake than money. Indeed, it is claimed that Crosby Textor are providing services for the review free of charge or at a discount, because what matters most to the firm is to shape the narrative of why the election wasn’t won. ConservativeHome will return to that matter next week – pausing only to make the obvious point that Tory poll ratings dropped most sharply during the campaign in the aftermath of the manifesto’s publication. Sir Lynton can scarcely be blamed for that.
At any rate, the Pickles/Brady review has an opportunity to impose some grip, or make recommendations that would do so. “A key problem is that CCHQ’s campaigning has been hollowed out over time,” one source told this site recently. “It is now set up to meet the requirements of consultants, rather than the other way round.” It is time for the Party Board to have a bigger say in CCHQ’s work and spending – and for the Board itself to be more accountable to members.