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Tory lack of clarity gets candidates jittering

Posted on 18 March 2010 | 10:03am

There now follows an extract from this morning’s media monitoring report by the Labour Party….

‘Conservatives left puzzled by policy pyramid’ (Timesp4) – ‘Wired up but not fired up for IT elex’ (Ti p4) – Conservative MPs are warning Cameron that the party’s election campaign is too complicated and lacks clear messages says Coates. MPs and candidates were left baffled after being told at a private meeting to campaign on a combination of one slogan, three promises and six pledges. Letwin told MPs to think of a policy pyramid when talking to voters. The top of the pyramid has the slogan: ‘We can’t go on like this. Vote for change.’ The three promises – to change the economy, society and politics – have been criticised for being too negative. The six promises include to ‘Act now on debt’, ‘Get Britain working‘, and ‘Make Britain the most family-friendly nation in Europe‘, and were called vague and random by MPs. Senior Tory MPs, including frontbenchers, said that Letwin had ‘over-intellectualised’ the main message, which should have been simpler. Two said that they would ‘make it up on the doorstep’, while several felt the lack of a specific reduction target for immigration was damaging. Senior figure: ‘Letwin personifies the mad professor … You could have got colleagues to sit down and come up with something much simpler in a couple of weeks, but instead CCHQ researchers and think-tanks churn out over-complicated ideas.’ Shadow ministers have admitted that if there was a Tory victory it would not come with the same enthusiasm that TB enjoyed. Clark: ‘If you considered today’s circumstances, you’ve got an economy which is a major source or worry, people worrying if they will keep their jobs and the expenses scandal dealing a blow to people’s confidence in politics and politicians. That combination means that I don’t think for any party the same degree of euphoria is available.’ – Manifesto commitments, background policy information and regional anti-Labour data will be available to all Tory candidates on a secure application on their BlackBerry or iPhone says Coates. It will accompany, but not replace, the Campaign Guide, which has been produced by the Conservative Research Department before each election since 1950. Several MPs barely hid their dismay when approached by The Times to discuss the new platform. One MP showed how the new software had frozen on his BlackBerry, displaying the message ‘Downloading Campaign Guide’ for the past 24 hours. MP: ‘It doesn’t bloody work.’ Another admitted that he did not have a BlackBerry or iPhone. (Ti)’

…. All quite cheering really and among the reasons why, at a dinner for industry PRs I spoke at last night, so many people seemed to echo the view that the election had gone from being all over a few months ago to wide open now. From thinking not long ago that the Tories had a slick campaign machine headed by a supercommunicator in Cameron, the majority view seemed to be it had descended into something close to a shambles, propped up only by the media’s continuing soft approach to matter Tory.

The lack of clarity is a real problem for them, and Oliver Letwin probably the last man you would want explaining message to nervy MPs and candidates. But the problem is of Cameron’s making. He has not really had, or if he has he has not seen through, the difficult conversations about what the modern (sic) Tory Party really stands for. So even in their ‘pyramid’ they have an overflow of conflicting ideas and messages leaving candidates feeling they will have to ‘make it up on the doorstep.’

‘Vote for Change’ is fine for an Opposition Party, indeed blindingly obvious. But it is limited. And unless people have the answer to the question ‘change to what?’ its limitations are even greater. If the MPs and candidates don’t know the answer, and Central Office can’t send it to a blackberry without clogging the damn thing up, what chance does the voter have?

* Buy The Blair Years online and raise cash for Labour http://www.alastaircampbell.org/bookshop.php.

  • arresta

    They forgot to include Osborne’s twelve “Benchmarks”, (mind, I’ve forgotten them as well).

  • Jeff Peel

    There’s a lot of truth in this. I think the CCHQ machine is indeed shambolic and I think it reflects the poor management skills of politicians running the show at Millbank – but also the dumping of clear Conservative ideology. There is no real passion – rather it’s tick-box electioneering run by a bunch of very young and very naive tech-geeks with no real operational management skills. The attempts at damage limitation over the Ashcroft affair were woeful.

    However, if the Conservative strategy is in a mess the Labour Party is little better. It’s come down to being a comparison game between two dreadfully out-of-touch political parties that are virtually devoid of any clear political values between them. All the emotional intelligence has been drained and there is no single-minded purpose any longer. The result is that on both sides the only party animals are supine appartchiks who are kicked around by the latest, chosen, policy wonks.

    I think you, Alastair, are, to some extent, to blame for this state of affairs. Both parties need radical overhaul in order to return to some type of emotionally-led vision for what they stand for. The blandness on both sides is a direct result of the modern superficiality of politics. And it is very, very depressing.

  • Harry Jones

    I was out canvassing in your neck of the woods – East Lancs – the other day. Found lots of grumbles about Labour but hardly anyone saying they were voting Tory. If we can get the last minute turners to turn our way it is all on

  • Paula Kingstone

    Can I get this media monitoring report? I’d love to be able to read the papers without reading them! Just read the Times report and your report says it all in so many fewer words

  • Hope Marshall

    You made a big hit last night… One of your listeners has talked of nothing else since she got in. And is brandishing your book with the personal message

  • Brian Hughes

    Today’s borrowing and car production figures together with yesterday’s on unemployment help shoot the Tory’s ‘busted economy’ fox. Their “broken Britain” message is regarded as insulting by many voters I’ve spoken to. Their MPs and PPCs are said to be baffled by their strategy (remember that “too clever by half” is pretty much the worst insult a Tory can think of).

    It’s ours for the taking but do we have clear messages and a credible communications strategy?

  • Charlie

    In 1997 the incoming Tony Blair government inherited one on the most successful and benign Economies in history. Over the next 13 years the Labour government have succeeded in not only blowing all this, but also saddling the country with an enormous debt mountain.

    Yes there have been improvements in some Public Services, but not nearly in proportion to the amount of our (and our grandchildren’s) money has been thrown at them.

    The Blair and Brown Labour governments have half-built a utopian dream…..sadly without the will to do it properly or the means to pay for it all.

    This hideous mess will be left for whoever forms the next administration to clear up. Is it any wonder that “if there was a Tory victory it would not come with the same enthusiasm that TB enjoyed.” ?

  • Colin Morley

    Family friendly? I remember being out of work with interest rates at 16 percent, an end to student grants, almost impossible to get social fund loan or grant, hugely high unemployment and council houses being sold off to those who could afford them, leaving the poorest high and dry and reliant on private landlords.
    If that is family friendly I don’t ever want to see that again, thanks!!

  • Leo

    It’s certainly too complicated for a man of small brain like me. The Tories are not distinguishing themselves. On the other hand Labour are not exactly flying high. Leaving complex Tory policy messages for a moment, this seems easier to understand: GB cut the defence budget in real terms for three years when we were fighting wars in the Middle East. It has become a truism that our forces have been fighting under-equipped. It’s not outlandish to suggest a causality: under-equipped because under-funded. Despite all his protests to the contrary the PM did not give the military his full support. In the minds of voters, I suspect this sort of thing counts more than esoteric policy games by either party.

  • Jude

    Yes, the election was all over a few months ago and now it is a shambles for the Conservatives. This, to me, is the most blindingly obvious reason not to vote for them. If they can mess up an election result practically handed to them on a plate, what would they do with the current real challenges facing whomsoever ends up governing?

  • Patrick James

    I wonder about those six promises, such as:

    ‘Make Britain the most family-friendly nation in Europe’.

    I think this one is creepy in a Stepford Wives kind of a way. Do people think that Britain is unfriendly to families and I wonder in what way it is if so?

    In the case of:

    ‘Get Britain working’

    I think that the greatest victory during this recession is that Labour have prevented rising unemployment. This is a terrific thing. During previous recessions we have seen unemployment rising and the is appalling for the victims and the knock on effect for their communities is very great economically and socially.

    I think the general public understand this and they associate the Conservative party’s savage cutting strategy with a great rise in unemployment.

  • Alan Quinn

    Cameron and the tories were summed up perfectly by one of Jeremy Vine’s guests, a wannabe tory MP for Cumbria. he had been in the army, a diplomat, done this done that, a real good CV.
    When JV asked him out about policy he was clueless, he said there must be cuts but not in Cumbria and didn’t know where the cuts should be nationally.
    In other words a Minime Dave, great on talk but no substance, no policy, nothing.

  • Chris lancashire

    The Tories’ best weapon remains Gordon Brown. As long as he remains leader New Labour is unelectable.

  • Robert Jackson

    It’s all very well, Alastair, taking the Conservatives to task for their lack of clarity in their election campaign.

    We saw today that two letters were sent to Sir Hayden Phillips by the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee specifically insisting that Mr Ashcroft should submit form DOM1 to Inland Revenue as an expected condition of his ennoblement.

    Sir Hayden said today he did not understand the significance of residence and domicile, and presumably he was confused as to the significance of form DOM1.

    The Tories know darned well when a bit of obfuscation is helpful in their own direction – they were perfectly happy for Sir Hayden to stay confused.

    The Conservatives are also happy for the electorate to be confused about their policies. So step number one is to make sure the candidates are all over the place.

    That’s their cunning plan.