Monday 26 April 2010

Why decapitation strategies don't work

The Tory blogosphere and some of the media are excitedly talking up "decapitation" strategies against Labour ministers. But it would make much more sense for the Labour blogosphere to do so.

CCHQ in encouraging the story, in an attempt to boost party morale and distract from the admission that many LibDem targets may be out of reach, appear to have forgotten what they learnt in defending against the LibDem widely trumpeted attempt to decapitate Michael Howard, Oliver Letwin, David Davis, Theresa May and others in both 2001 and 2005, which proved a comprehensive failure.

The voters don't like it.

Don't take it from me; take it from not-Lord Ashcroft himself, on page 305 of Dirty Politics, Dirty Times, available to read in full online all the way from Belize:

My polling uncovered many interesting facts, including that voters in the Liberal Democrats' decapitation seats were less inclined to vote against the sitting Conservative MP when they were told of the decapitation motivation.


Oliver Letwin clearly understood the message because when he was interviewed by Ann Treneman of The Times during the campaign, he asked her to use the word "decapitation" a lot because he said it would help him to get elected

While Ed Balls is said to be the prime target, I have seen reports that the Tories believe this strategy will help them to unseat several other candidates who also have very strong local profiles, and where outside attempts to flood the constituency with additional campaign cash may not go down so well.

Targets include Sadiq Khan in Tooting (a local lad, born and bred), John Denham in Southampton (a councillor from the early 1980s, who was fighting the seat for the third time when he won in 1992) and Jack Straw in Blackburn (who was widely told he could not survive after Iraq in 2005).

My advice to them all - make sure your local press and voters on the doorstep know you are on the national Tory "decapitation" hitlist.

The broader reason that the Tories have not cruised to victory, as they always anticipated they would, is that they have consistently looked at events through hyper-partisan blue spectacles, and then imagined everybody else sees it like them. Th Tory blogosphere is helping to raise cash - but its echo chamber effect can may also often help insulate online party activists from reality.


I was in Enfield Southgate on 1st May 1997 doing a tiny bit that happy day to help Stephen Twigg over the finishing line, along with others who had decided any "key seats" targetting could go hang in the final hours.

So that was never part of a strategy cooked up in national headquarters; quite the opposite.

Nor, as Twigg noted in thanking tactical voters for helping him win, was the "Portillo moment" the partisan property of one political party.

Rather it became a shared national experience, capable of being voted Britain's third favourite Television moment of all time.

Could the Tories emulate that? In your dreams, Tory Bear.


PS: Just before posting this, I've spotted that George Eaton of the New Statesman has already made the general point.

1 comment:

_______ said...

Decapitating Ed Balls would probably be in the long term interests of the Labour party, by kicking him out of the leadership race.

The UK centre-left/centrist vote has clearly become more liberal, due to the surge of liberal democrat support.

The last thing the UK's centre-left wants and Labour needs, is an avuncular illiberal paternalist such as Ed Balls. Ed Balls as leader of he Labour party could be it's death knell. His paternalism, centralism, political tribalism and un-interest in constitutional reform go exactly against the strand of thinking amongst the centre-left of the current decade and the electorate.