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    14 May, 2005

    The Tory campaign

    The Tory campaign was one of the nastiest we have seen for a while, with its constant focus on issues such as immigration and asylum. Much of the campaign was subterranean, operating through direct mail and aggressive telephone canvassing. The Tory campaign was of course designed to depress the Labour vote – to try and keep our voters at home – both by suggesting we were far ahead in the polls and also by making them feel uncomfortable about backing us - while motivating their own. However, it was too much a Michael Howard show and in some ways it had the wrong impact – the suggestion was that the sheer unpleasantness of Lynton Crosby’s ‘dog whistle’ strategy was harming the Tory campaign by solidifying the Labour vote. The Conservatives went OTT, with Howard calling the Prime Minister a ‘liar’, rightly seen by Richard Wyn Jones as descending to a new low in political debate.

    It seemed in March before the campaign officially kicked off that the UK Labour campaign was being forced onto the defensive by a much more aggressive Conservative campaign – the Conservatives’ strongest campaign since 1992. Then Howard Flight came along and raised in one speech all the issues we wanted on the table. The UK Labour strategy was to ensure that this was not a referendum on Labour’s record, but a choice between two different visions for Britain. Forward not back, economic success versus boom and bust. Howard Flight took us straight to the heart of the message that the Tories planned extensive cuts in public services.

    In Wales, we sought to expose the lies at the heart of the Tory campaign. We got some coverage for the way in which Tory candidates around Wales were deceiving voters with their claims that pensioners would get a £500 discount on their council tax despite the fact that it wasn’t in their Welsh manifesto. We succeeded in getting some exposure of the Tories’ letters to voters which contained misleading information on MRSA rates in local hospitals. These were supplied to us by Labour activists around Wales, and we had the story running over 3 days, with a front page in the Western Wail.

    Subsequently, via the South Wales Echo, we exposed the fact that the Tories were sending out letters claiming that the cost of asylum was being borne by council –tax payers, when in fact the sums the Tories were using were the amounts being reimbursed by the Home Office.

    Some aspects of the Tory campaign were ill-targetted. Why, for example, were there so many Tory posters in the Rhondda? They are still up, in both Valleys. Not the most profitable territory for them, and so many that they must have wasted a fortune. Of course, as The Times pointed out on May 4, the Tories had spent an unprecedented sum, some £16 million:

    'The source said: "Michael is spending the family silver, virtually all of it, to try to secure the best possible result"'.

    According to David Hencke, in the Guardian, there was a secret Tory fund which channeled money direct to some marginals, including Preseli Pembrokeshire.

    There are now three Tory MPs in Wales. They are all very right-wing, probably anti-Assembly in practice (even David Davies), and may cause grief for the Tory Assembly leader Nick Bourne. Aside from the landslides of 2001 and 1997, you would have to go back to 1966 to find a time when the Tories had as few as 3 MPs in Wales. 2005 remains one of their worst post-war results.

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    Promoted by Leighton Andrews AM, National Assembly for Wales, Cardiff CF99 1NA.

    Author's editorial policy: This blog does not publish anonymous comments, unless they are really witty and I like them. If you have something to say, then have the courage of your convictions and use your name or an identifiable alias. Even then I reserve the right not to publish comments that are malicious, defamatory, stupid, pointlessly cynical or boring. Any of the statements or comments made above should be regarded as personal and not necessarily those of the National Assembly for Wales, any constituent part or connected body.