A feistier Tory party is exactly what everyone's looking for
Lord Ashcroft has outlined why he thinks negative campaigning won't work for the Tories. Raheem Kassam disagrees.
Today on ConservativeHome, Lord Ashcroft has stuck the knife into one of Grant Shapps's first actions as the new Chairman of the Conservative Party.
But despite the fact that I think these posters were wide of the mark in messaging, strategically, Shapps is now doing what the Tories should have been doing since day one in office.
Primarily, a delineation must be made between Number 10 and Millbank Tower (Conservative Campaign Headquarters or 'CCHQ'). Ashcroft stumbles upon why, but draws the incorrect conclusions.
"Stunts like this," he says, "do not sit easily with the qualities a party of government should be able to claim for itself."
But a political party cannot simply be a party of government, even when occupying (most of) government. It still must serve its primary function - as a party, representing its membership, campaigning against its opposition and seeking to secure another term in office.
Tony Blair's successive administrations used the apparatus of government to do this. A morally reprehensible strategy that should not sit well with conservatives. From subliminally pro-government advertisements to widespread NHS campaigns, the Labour party only forgot its campaigning nous as it fell apart trying to hold Brown's government together. For those who argue that the Tories should adopt the Blair tactic of using government as a campaign tool, I say no. This is ethically wrong and in fact illegal in the most part.
But Ashcroft makes a certain point about negative campaigning and it's impact upon the voter, especially those in the marginal constituencies that the Tories must hold or win to get another 5 years in Number 10.
He's right in a way. Floating voters will be assuredly dismissive of politicians' attacks on their opponents. But this wasn't an ad overtly targeting those voters. This was an ad aimed squarely at three groups.
Firstly, CCHQ is putting the media on notice. No more Mr. Nice Guy, chaps. Less blue sky thinking and self-indulgent 'modern age' Hilton-esque bull. The Tories are returning to British politics.
Secondly, the very same message was targeted at party activists. Less namby-pamby Warsi inclusivity crap, it's time to fight for another term to keep the country on its feet. It is time, this advert insists to the base, to fight fire with fire, instead of with cuddles and lollipops. It's time to go to the mattresses.
Lastly, this advert was aimed at the Labour party. That's why it was driven around Labour conference on the side of a truck yesterday. It was a show of force, two fingers up, "Yes, we're in government and you're going to have to pry it from our cold dead hands."
So I'm afraid if Ashcroft thought the poster was targeted at Mr. and Mrs. Newbury at 45 Ledsom Close, Wakefield, he was sadly mistaken.
A ballsy CCHQ is what the media and party activists have been waiting for, and what the Labour party has been fearing. Instead of cheap attack lines which have until now, had little rebuttle, Ed's lot will now have to respond in kind and play the shots fired at them, also.
This can only be a positive step for the Tories and should be embraced by party professionals.
Raheem Kassam is the Executive Editor of The Commentator and tweets at @RaheemJKassam
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