COMRES POLLWATCH: The Tory campaign grid lights up
The Tory campaign grid lights up
This week the
National Grid announced there would be no blackouts this winter, but election
watchers may have noticed another grid lighting up over the last fortnight.
grids” were introduced to the British political scene by Labour in the run-up
to the 1987 election. Peter Mandelson and Philip Gould mapped out the policies
that the party would discuss on particular days throughout the campaign period,
perfecting the technique by the time of Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide.
Like any plan,
half of the value of the grid is in the planning itself. It becomes a reference
point for strategists, encouraging consistency and focus in a long campaign.
But it is particularly effective when announcements are skilfully sequenced
alongside external events to create “riffs” that catch the ear of the
electorate and drown out your opponents’ attacks.
have caused the Conservative Party’s campaign grid to kick in: the end of the
Scottish independence referendum, the end of the party conference season, and
the forthcoming by-election in Rochester & Strood.
Conservatives knew that a strong media presence during the Scotland campaign
was likely to be counterproductive, mainly offering support behind the scenes
or through the occasional set-piece announcement by George Osborne on the
economic consequences of breakup.
conferences are a quiet period for campaign communications, a moment for
navel-gazing or rousing the party faithful. Even the defection of Clacton MP
Douglas Carswell to UKIP had relatively little effect on proceedings – once
they had got over the shock, many Tories knew that he was well placed to win
the seat, and on 9 October he did convincingly.
As Farage and
Carswell basked in the glory of their victory, and Labour engaged in
soul-searching of their own after nearly losing Heywood & Middleton, David Cameron
(and Lynton Crosby) switched into daily campaign mode.
campaign grid kicks in
14 Oct – David Cameron “sounds a call to arms in
a meeting with the parliamentary party” ahead of the Rochester & Strood
by-election; “every MP is under instruction to visit the constituency three
times and each Cabinet minister five times” (source: Telegraph Morning
16 Oct – David Cameron says immigration to be
“red line issue in EU negotiations” and floats “emergency brake” policy.
17 Oct – Philip Hammond says Tory plans will
“light a fire under the EU”.
19 Oct – Grant Shapps says “we cannot have an
open-ended situation where people are always able to come to Britain in such a
20 Oct – Jose Manuel Barroso visits UK and makes
speech critical of Cameron at Chatham House; Cameron says “British voters, not
Barroso” are his boss over EU immigration.
21 Oct – Jeremy Hunt says English hospitals
“under intolerable pressure” from Welsh patients.
22 Oct – PMQs descends into argument about
Labour-run NHS Wales.
24 Oct – Cameron refuses to pay “surprise” EU
bill of £1.7bn and says Britain being “punished” for economic success. (ComRes
polling later that weekend shows Cameron is leader most trusted by voters
to “stand up for Britain’s interests in the EU”.)
26 Oct – Michael Fallon says some towns being
“swamped” by immigrants.
27 Oct – A story breaks about the UK refusing to
support refugee rescue operations in the Mediterranean (based on a written
statement given by Foreign Office Minister Baroness Anelay on Wed 15 Oct).
28 Oct – Nick Boles says “as long as Britain
remains the most dynamic economy in the EU, we’re going to be the net recipient
of a very large amount of immigration every year.”
30 Oct – David Cameron writes Times piece, “It’s
our moral duty to bring down your taxes”.
31 Oct – Iain Duncan Smith says in the Daily Mail
that every new policy will face a “family friendly” test to strengthen support
Most of the
key figures in this sequence are Cameron loyalists, and each has come out with
a phrase calculated to generate headlines. From 19–28 October, a key theme
emerged: that people (immigrants, Welsh hospital patients, the EU) were trying
to exploit the “economic success” of Conservative-run England and Britain.
release of a potentially destructive NHS England report (Thu 23 Oct) between
attacks on Labour-run NHS Wales (Wed 22 Oct) and high-profile attacks on the EU’s
£1.6bn bill (Fri 24 Oct) was exquisitely well played by Cameron’s strategists.
ComRes research shows that the NHS is Labour’s most
over the Conservatives, and the report release now looks like a missed
opportunity for Labour.
This has all
had two key effects on media coverage: first, while UKIP are doing brilliantly
in the polls, they have had relatively little airtime; second, Labour have
dropped off the face of the earth.
In spite of the difficult electoral maths, the
Conservatives should be taken seriously as an electoral force. As the party of
government, and marshalled by Lynton Crosby, they can set the agenda. The
latest announcements on tax cuts and a “family friendly” test hint at the next
barrage of headlines. The long campaign has started, and the onus is now on
Labour to fight back.
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