Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Fighting fire with fire

This year, I had the professional pleasure of visiting Tory conference for the first time. The annual gathering is famed for its diversity – some middle-aged white men were from south-east England and some were from south-west England. There were stands selling tweed and handbags, and speaker after speaker denounced the coming European super-state. But it is a mistake for the stereotypes and the troglodytes to blind us as to just what a disciplined political party the Tories can be.

That might sound odd in a period when Tory members of parliament are defecting to the United Kingdom Independence party, and different fringes aggressively disagreed on the need for a Tory-Ukip pact. But it was abundantly clear from Lynton Crosby’s briefing for Tory candidates and delegates. Their focus is on the two ‘Es’ – Ed and the economy. Welfare, immigration, the European Union referendum and English Votes for English Laws do matter, but they are secondary issues. Anything else is a barnacle on the hull.

They have their policies and they have their simple narrative: Labour left the economy in a mess; we have turned it around; you cannot trust Labour. This was flashed to delegates on a conference hall screen, just so they fully internalised their ‘conference message’. Added to their policies and their narrative are their people: ‘On the side of hardworking taxpayers’ – again, spewed all over the screen for delegates to read, learn and inwardly digest. ‘Just remind me again, Marjorie, who are we on the side of?’ ‘Hardworking taxpayers, Gerald, do keep up.’ ‘Oh yes, sorry Marjorie’.

More slides took delegates through four key messages:

  1. Persuade voters that we can see the plan through
  2. Put the economy front and center (proving that Crosby wrote the slides himself?)
  3. Reinforce the risk of Labour (although maybe not, as ‘Labour’ had a ‘u’?!)
  4. Focus on the choice for prime minister

Ed and the economy, Ed and the economy. We were told that Ed would not stand up for the national interest, that he would give in to special interests and would not take tough decisions. Ed would speak to Putin for an hour without notes, but would forget to mention Ukraine. Ed could not do what the Tories have had to do – Ed could not fix the economy. Various ministers of state then explained what they were doing, not to fix roads at transport or drive up school standards at education, but to deliver the Tories’ economic plan through their departments. It is the economy, stupid.

They rebranded employers’ national insurance contributions as a ‘jobs tax’, which the Tories will reduce and Labour will increase because Labour does not care about the economy and because Ed is a leftie/stupid/wrong (delete as applicable). They told us that between 2003 and 2008, 90 per cent of new jobs went to foreigners and that Labour always delivers high unemployment. The ‘2Es Show’ was only marred when Nick Gibb announced with incredulity that in 2010, only 22 per cent of 16-year-olds could calculate 5/6 of 300, followed by a bold announcement: ‘Our aim is to reduce that to zero’.

The focus was relentless and the message discipline was total, in the conference hall at least. We need the same, and we can have the same, as we have had it in the past. We do not necessarily need a 1997-style pledge card, but we do need to narrow our message in a way that makes sense. We might want May 2015 to be a referendum on the NHS but that is not going to happen. We need an answer on the economy and one on why Ed should be prime minister. We cannot duck these issues, as they are the ones that will decide the election.

Lynton Crosby’s political tone might be one we do not like to hear, but his methods work. He spoke convincingly of the importance of locally grounded candidates, working in their communities and telling a catchy story about who they are and what they will do if elected. Our best candidates do this already, not because they were told to do so by a political strategist, but because that is why they got involved in politics in the first place. That point seemed to be lost at the Tories’ candidates’ briefing.

However, honest, hard-working local candidates can only go so far if they do not have convincing answers to the two Es. We might try and duck the EU referendum or English Votes for English Laws questions but we cannot duck the prime minister or the economy questions. The Tories and Lynton Crosby have staked out their ground and we are going to have to engage them on it. How we rise to this challenge will determine the result next May and, ultimately, the future of this country.


Mark Rusling is a Labour and Cooperative councillor in the London borough of Waltham Forest and writes the Changing to Survive column. He tweets @MarkRusling

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Mark Rusling

is cabinet member for economic development and corporate resources on Waltham Forest council


  • Very interesting how the Tory guru strategist Lynton Crosby is exerting his grip. I think the thing that struck me about last week is our missed goals and how niggled we got as those polls came in showing a Tory lead. The Media worshipped the Tories. But where were we?

    Where was the ‘counter blast’ of which the LibDems have used this week ( Salmond is a master at a quick counter attack) 1) How come the Tories can reduce taxes on millions of people when there’s a so called 90 + billion massive deficit and we are going to butcher services? 2) How come we will take money from poor families with children and give it to the upper middle classes. Now the Brit’s who vote are generally fair and our narrative has got to trust that the public will feel uncomfortable and be fearful about the Tories back ’til 2020!

    Its not rocket science. It is now easy to claim the Tories are no longer a Centre Party. Every Time a Labour spokes person is on the media they should just say * the very right wing Tory party”. But we have to be there to say it ; of course it cannot be Ed every time ( especially after weeks of intensive work) but who spoke for Labour last week; there should be a grid of people on duty ( where was Harriet?) etc! This is the reason people got irked last week; a timid quiet Labour party when the Tory Party just went ‘very Right Wing’. Who are our Strategists and what were they doing during the media Tory love in last week?

  • Interestingly your article illustrates the weakness that found us out at elections. My view is that Ed was targeted in a good way but misunderstood the final thrusts of an election are frequently turned by less obvious movements. This was our idea of Ed’s trump card to play ( he would have had others up his sleeve) once he had staked Labour’s formation of government to accept/embrace the British Standard of “sustainability” and so indicating his need for the austerity in terms of driving our national interests but delivering the power of the commonwealth into the absolute drive to establish and take a Commonwealth lead with this essential global reengineering of values with a direction towards the Bio Economy that is the future. This has to be a Commonwealth-Nationally sponsored drive. We have been predicting that grounding in Scotland would be an imperative because Labour would loos it’s core vote in Scotland if promoting austerity, if promoting an austerity program that did not come with a golden lining. That gold is from the Monarchy, who in my opinion, threw out a boon at these 2015 General Elections that Tony Blair would have Wolfed down, cleared the floor, and come with major and minor trump cards. He would have been prepared. When Ed was mute, he lost the election he had won politically. In your article you actually highlight he exact weakness that the Tories wanted challenged, Cameron bet large that Ed would not know to come to the mark. He bet most on his con that h in some way is more acceptable to form the Queens government. No! He was not favored he has been told in Royal terms to bend his knee before he brings policies of austerity to his Queen. He was given the luxury of not having to play any trumps or to make any policy shifts away from his mean nasty unproductive policies. This open access to be punitive in order to gain whatever Cameron things is good for the nation is not going to be place upon the British public because the SLP took the standard and they told UK Labour “No Austerity”. Main line Ed held his own if he banged on about the collaboratively formed and approved policy but he, nor Cameron, can logically deliver their parties idea of government to the Queen when they are leading with austerity. In obvious requirement for refining to activation this was our idea of what Ed should have had as a lead policy on the global economy. This would have go him past Cameron’s bluff and up to the mark as a forward thinking progressive leader. As it happened, I think he dropped the Labour Royal vote over the last 24 hours and vote day. SLP illustrated how important and how they never cast a view of her majesty out of their political thoughts. Jim, did not stand a cat in hells chance of winning seats for Labour in Scotland because the core of Scottish Labour is national, commonwealth and loyal to the standard of the crown. In England and Wales we miss this very interesting part of our monarchy’s mute yet easily discerned standards. TB never placed our Queen far from his political jestering because he understands the very important role being played above party political exchanges. I think she really, really wanted to know the quality of Ed but more, was he forming a UK government for her pleasure? She gained a very disappointing answer, this Labour party supporter too! Truth is many must have been numb so soon they knew the exit pole could not have be more explicit. When I formed our company to commercialize patented methodologies in the bio renewable sector in 2012 it was evident then and now, that we should establish our UK company in Scotland where the central government is progressive to new opportunities, and looks further to the UK – Commonwealth and EC partners progressively. This fandango around all things EC as something the UK has to prioritize is non sensical when we are competent as a nation under general representation to continue improving adjusting and enjoying the benefits of our EC membership while obviously all of the EC members are flexing according to how their citizens can gain best benefits. The UK has to up it’s Social and Environmental values all round, it does this best when recognizing that the Commonwealth opens access to 2.2 Billion Queens citizens and subjects. What I outline is, I consider, to be a very proactive, exceptionally forward thinking policy initiative that can grow organically for many years as a core founding progressive policy that will enable the UK-Commonwealth to arrest control of global affairs that cause the progressive evolution of what we know we need. The more astute may observe that the process of delivering the standard of sustainability changes the base lines of citizen-subject values at grassroots levels.

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