I have been reading Michael Ashcroft’s account of the work he and his team did in the marginal seats in the run up to 2010 election. It is not much like the press accounts I have seen of it. Far from laying into former colleagues, or complaining that the Conservatives did not win, he provides a rational and balanced analysis of what went right and what went wrong in the long and short campaigns.
His figures show that Conservative candidates did do better than the national swing in the target seats where he helped them put in the extra effort. Hard work works. Those who said he wasted his efforts were wrong. He defends himself against the charge that he sought to buy an election. As he points out, all parties could have run targetted campaigns as the Conservatives did. Money does not always buy success, as the Referendum party proved in 1997, and as Labour showed in 2010.
He also goes a long way to reinforce my view that running a campaign based on negatives about opponents is not the way to electoral success. His polling showed that many more people had a dim view of Mr brown and the government he led than wanted to vote Conservative. The Conservatives did need to explain what they were going to do, and to show they understood the wishes of the people and complexity of the problems we face, more than they needed to demolish Mr Brown again.
I only found myself in disagreement over one issue – tax. Lord Ashcroft believed that offering tax cuts would not work. Yet he concedes that when the Conservatives did offer specific tax cuts, no matter what they were , they polled well and helped raise the national poll ratings of the party. He claims more general tax promsies would not have been believed. That would depend on what was also said about economic growth and public spending. He could have added that in 1997 Mr Blair was adamant Labour would not raise taxes, and did much to campaign against the tax increases Mr Major had introduced. This was an important argument which helped Labour’s victory.