Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Sunday Times have totally misrepresented me over the memo I sent out yesterday. Have been busy all morning trying to sort out the mess. We are not complacent – there is still a lot of fucking hard work to be done over the next 10 days. We are worried about turnout and the Tories focusing on marginal seats. Will be having some serious words with those idiot hacks at The Sunday Times.

You can read my whole memo here.

TB has asked me to set out a campaign overview as we enter the final full week of the campaign. Here it is.

Private polling reflects published polling. Lead is stable. TB rating up. MH down. CK failing to make headway. TB-GB joint campaigning has seen our lead on leadership in the economy rise even further, leads on health and education have also risen. When asked “who do you trust to run the country/economy?” we have a growing lead.

So the strategy – root everything in the economy, focus on values/dividing lines in public services – is on track and working.

The overnight tracking polls show we can be confident on asylum and immigration. TB’s speech had huge awareness and he seems to have got the balance right, between action on the one hand, tolerance on the other. In the focus groups, there are now signs of a negative halo effect for Howard ie when the Tories focus on asylum and immigration it has the effect of skewing the perception of the party to the Right and turns off centrist voters.

People are beginning to ask if MH ever talks about anything else. Men in particular have begun to notice MH never speaks on the economy. People are beginning to compare him negatively with Mrs Thatcher (and even with John Major!) His nastiness and a sense that he is extreme are now being raised without any prompting.

Asked where to place the Tories on a Right to Left scale of -100 to +100, where 0 is the centre, people placed the Tories at an average of +36 at the start of the campaign, in the last few days that has risen as high as +57, indicating that they have been seen to move sharply to the Right. Labour has moved from -3 to -6, on the same scale. We are now very close to the centre.

This appears to be very good news for us. It means the Tories are increasingly being seen as extreme. It is also clear as per Crosby’s memo in the Guardian, that they are sticking to their “send a message” strategy, rather than going to win, and they are not even putting forward a programme for government.

However, TB is concerned that we understand fully the kind of campaign they are running. Of course we have to say they have vacated the field on the economy, and that they do not have a serious or coherent programme for government. But in terms of their strategy, that misses the point. They are fighting a different sort of campaign, focusing ruthlessly on the marginals, targeting specific voters with specific messages designed to arouse fear and grievance. It is, as TB has said, nasty and unscrupulous, but it still has the capacity to be effective in some parts of the country. So the big national poll leads do not matter. What matters is that we understand the nature of their campaign, expose it, and fight it very hard on the ground, by making sure our messages and policies are heard, and theirs rebutted. We have gathered a good deal of their local material which will allow us to continue to expose what they are up to through the week. It is a deliberately sneaky strategy which once fully exposed will damage them.

Allied to this, we need to build on the argument that just as voters used to punish us in the 80s because we failed to listen, and because of the nature of our campaigns, so the public should see this election as an opportunity not just to support us, but to punish them, send them a message that they deserve to lose and need to go away, rethink, start compromising with an electorate that has moved on from the Thatcher years.


TB is anxious that we understand fully the implication of the analysis PG presented on turnout yesterday. The reality is, as we succeed in our attacks on the Tories, and as Howard becomes more and more visible, we rise in the polls, which then has a direct and immediate impact on the prospects for turnout.

Among certain groups, there has been a sharp decline in certainty to vote in the last week. Certainty to vote for Labour has dropped by around 7% and among the people who are most strongly aligned with us on issues such as health and education, the drop has been bigger. This has little or nothing to do with apathy or disillusion. It is more that if the poll lead widens, they feel sure we are going to win and less compelled to vote. This again plays into Crosby’s Queensland strategy.

In summary, we are very well positioned in the debate but there is a strong risk low turnout could hit us very hard, indeed. So far we have been engaged in making and winning arguments. This job is largely done. Next week, we will be back on the economy, TB-GB, dividing lines in public services. The arguments keep going but we will be shifting to a greater emphasis on the importance of voting. We have new posters planned for today, on schools and hospitals, with the slogan, “If you value it, vote for it.”

We have an economic version planned for Monday’s TB-JP-GB cities event. We then get up the choice on public services, tax credits, before launching the business manifesto to get another day on the economy. It’s pretty simple: when we are on the economy, we win the arguments. But we now need to inject a greater sense of this being about values every bit as much as competence - with a real focus on the importance of voting, moving eventually to the line that if people stay at home, or go with the Lib Dems, they will wake up with Howard.

The rest of the campaign should be relentlessly about why voting matters, and we should be focusing on issues which are more likely to convince our supporters to vote. That means the economy, health, education, family tax credits, minimum wage, which every poll has shown to be our singly most popular policy.

Finally, on the Lib Dems, GB is setting out at this morning’s p/c the argument that serious people cannot take the LDs seriously. We know CK is going big on Iraq next week. It is to him what immigration is to Howard. Our answer is two-fold: defend the points on Iraq, on the grounds that if CK’s view had prevailed, Saddam would still be in power. But also point out CK focused on this because his policies on the economy and crime/legalising drugs in particular, are a joke.