People are asking me: how are you going to respond to this change in the general election? What are you going to do? Are you going to suddenly go negative, are you going to lash out against your opponents, are you going to do something different? I will tell you what I'm going to do, I am going to redouble the positive, I am going to accentuate everything positive we want to bring to this country, I am going to make sure everything we do is about the positive vision we have for the future of our country because it's absolutely clear to me what this election is about.
So he will be shocked, shocked, I tell you to hear about this YouGov poll question among many testing negative messages against Nick Clegg for an unidentified private client,revealed today:
Nick Clegg says the other parties are to blame for the MP scandals, he has taken money from a criminal on the run, many of his MPs have been found guilty of breaking the rules and his own party issued guidance on how to fiddle the expenses system."
Stephan Shakespeare, CEO of YouGov, writing for ConservativeHome.
Most professionally-run campaigns will at some time want to test public reaction to a variety of messages, to see if its communication strategy is likely to work. This applies to companies and brands, and of course political parties.
When you see these questions, you can’t be sure who the client is, or what the reason for the test is.
Some blog-surfers have been getting very excited about a poll YouGov is supposed to have conducted which asked negative questions about the LibDems. I obviously can’t tell you about who the clients might be or what they were interested in, but I can categorically state that all our published voting intention questions come at the start of our polls, as is standard practise. I also remind you that you can never tell from as a respondents to a survey whether the questions you are seeing are the same as the questions a different respondent is seeing, no whether the purpose is attack or defence or something quite different. YouGov polls for at least three different parties in this election, as well as for third parties that are interested in these things, such as academics. I hope that clears things up.
Well, it really, really doesn't clear anything up does it - except that YouGov protect the voting intention polls from such message-testing negativity. Let's discount "is supposed to have". That could provide a textbook case of non-denial.
But the question is perhaps less for the pollster than the anonymous client, whomsoever that might turn out to be.
So, to adapt the immortal words of Lloyd Grossman, who would test a message like that?
Now, Stephen Shakespeare floats the idea that it might not be as obvious as you think: YouGov work for a numbe of parties who might "want to test both positive and negative messages, either to promote those messages or find out which they most need to defend themselves against".
So, firstly, the Liberal Democrats might want to confirm that they were not testing this message against themselves, a most unlikely theory but one worth ruling out.
And that leaves the two major parties. Both should answer the question.
A reasonable hypothesis could be that the cash-rich and rather shaken Conservatives might be the more likely.
Clearly "I won't be going negative" does not simply apply to the words the candidate will utter on camera, regardless of whatever the party and campaign he is leading are doing behind the scenes.
So David Cameron's credibility and integrity are at stake - and he surely needs to issue a clear and unequivocal public statement that no member of the party staff or party office-holder had any involvement in testing that message. (And it would be as well for the question to be framed in a way that would work out whether it has been done by a party surrogate - such as the Midlands Industrial Council - in a way that attempts a veneer of deniability for the party).
If he can't do that, he needs to explain how and why that type of message testing fits with a pledge not to go negative but to "redouble the positive".
Shall we mention a few rather close business, political and personal connections, which might or might not shed some explanatory light on the mystery.
Didn't the Conservative Party reveal last month that it was becoming a new major client of YouGov during the election? It was reported that this internal polling would provide additional rapid reaction polling of polling "within the day" on major announcement "enabling them to have whole ad campaigns ready to go for the next morning".
Isn't that the very same Stephan Shakespeare who is CEO of the new company acquired by Tory deputy chairman not-Lord Ashcroft in a £1.3 million investment?
His message has been published on ConservativeHome - a website also acquired by the Tory party chairman in the same deal, and of which Shakespeare is chair.
Doesn't not-Lord Ashcroft take quite an interest in opinion polling, spending £250,000 of his own money on private polling in 2005 so as to influence the Cameron project afterwards, albeit saving thousands in tax on VAT by billing his UK marginals polling to Belize?
I will happily retract the statement if proved wrong with a public denial by the reclusive billionaire, but, in the meantime, do not place your own non-dom fortune on the elusive not-Lord Ashcroft being able to prove that his fingerprints are nowhere near this.