How Cameron’s new modernising advisor sees the Conservative party

8:28 am - February 16th 2011

by Sunder Katwala    

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Andrew Cooper is to become Downing Street director of strategy, having been head of the pollster Populus.

There was a nervous reaction from Tim Montgomerie, the influential editor of ConservativeHome, who quickly tweeted:

Andrew Cooper once described the Tory grassroots as “vile” to me. And now he’s head of strategy for David Cameron.

There is good evidence that they have substantive reasons to be nervous.

The new director of strategy certainly takes a pretty much diametrically opposed view of why the Tories fell short at the last election to that offered in the ConservativeHome post-election inquest.

Cooper strongly supports the thesis that the Conservatives fell short because voters did not feel that they had changed enough – which does indeed cast the Tory party as much more the problem than the solution.

Surprisingly little attention has been paid to the evidence that Cameron is no longer seen as more centrist than his party by the public. But Cooper will probably fear the truth in Ed Miliband’s observation that “we are seeing the recontamination of the Tory brand“.

This was how I reported Andrew Cooper’s critique of the Tory election campaign for the New Statesman.

He said last night that the strategic weakness of the Tory campaign was always to respond with an “unremittingly negative” attack on Gordon Brown, which failed to take on board how far the decisive electoral question remained voters’ doubts about the Conservatives. This meant that they failed to secure enough support – most notably in Scotland, in London (particularly among non-white voters), and among public-sector workers and the less well-off, where those who agreed it was time for a change remained repelled by the risk of the “same old Tories”.

As the Tory leadership realised this, they began to make “much more detailed preparations for a hung parliament than anybody realised”, Cooper said.

Cooper was, in effect, voicing a significant criticism of George Osborne’s approach to electoral and campaign strategy. Osborne was the voice of the “relentlessly negative” messaging which, on Cooper’s analysis, simply poured energy and resources into an argument the Tories had already won.

After the 2005 election, Cooper produced a presentation which emphasised that 79% of Tory voters felt the party was “on the right track to get into power before too long” but only 28% of non-Tories agreed.

Cooper and Michael Gove offered a route-map, according to Tim Bale’s book, for the Cameroons.

1. Always try to see ourselves through the voters’ eyes.

2. Talk about the issues that matter most to voters (not the issues that we’re most at home with).

3. Use the language of people, not the language of politicians.

4. “Tell people what we stand for – not (just) what is wrong with Labour. Unless we give voters new reasons to support us they won’t.

5. Remember Tim Bell’s rule: ‘if they haven’t heard it, you haven’t said it’ – so repetition is vital.

6. Respect modern Britain. If we seem not to like Britain today, the feeling will surely be reciprocated.

7. Don’t be shrill or strident – that’s not how normal civilised people behave.

8. Remember that whatever we are talking about, the most important message is what we are saying about ourselves.

9. Face the fact that we lost people’s trust because of how we behave (and sound) as well as what we say”.

10. Focus on the voters we have to win, don’t preach to the converted.

11. Be disciplined and consistent.

The focus on turning the Tories into ‘normal civilised people’ does suggest a particular view of the party as mainly containing idiosyncratic, swivel-eyed ideologues.

What is also striking now is just how strongly the emphasis is on etiquette and behaviour, and just how little there is on political content.

Perhaps one of the lessons of David Cameron’s incomplete and shallow modernisation of his party is that good manners are important, but not a substitute for a political strategy.

A longer version of this article is at Next Left

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About the author
Sunder Katwala is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. He is the director of British Future, a think-tank addressing identity and integration, migration and opportunity. He was formerly secretary-general of the Fabian Society.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Conservative Party ,Westminster

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Reader comments

What is interesting is how much of that list could also be applied to labour. In fact it reads more like “political campaigning 101” than anything else, remarkable that both our main parties are so incompetent at the very thing that should be central to them.

@1 Planeshift

My thoughts exactly. It’s astonishing they even had to be told.

@1 planetshift

“…..remarkable that both our main parties are so incompetent at the very thing that should be central to them”

You think so? Perhaps the outcome of the last GE have just made me (even more?) jaundiced about political parties, and our political “class” in general. As you say, much of this should be so obvious, so “natural” that you would think it hardly needs saying….. and yet….. *sighs*

Given the current state of parliament and the 3 major parties, the effects of the MP’s expenses scandal, and responses to the economic crisis, it’s difficult not to be pessimistic about prospects for the future. 🙁

Yes it’s hilarious really. After every election you always get the far left (in Labour) and far right (in the Tories) moaning that their party would have won if only they’d had a more extreme platform. Talk about blinkered!

We have a Tory party, which could just as easy be the New labour party or is that Newer labour. When you vote now you vote for the Tory ideal you think is best for you.

I was in Cardiff last week listening to Miliband and to be honest close your eyes and listen to the words and it’s Cameron without a blocked nose.

Yes – surely those very sensible rules can be appllied to everyone?

I suppose on a more positive note it is good that a Tory considers the minions within his own party as vile, rather than, as normal, most Tories viewing us oiks in that way.

Unfortunately Fred, the problem here is that the majority of people in this country are actually complacently happy with the status quo.

This is probably because the majority of people in the UK are the beneficiaries of the current world order and have it so cushy compared to the global billions living on the edge of the abyss in what we used to call the Third World.

Why would British voters want to change the political and economic system as long as it upholds our privileged position as consumers so effectively?

I would question the consensus that the Tories did badly in 2010. They got 56% of the 2-Party vote, as against Thatchers 54% in 1979. The vote share of the biggest 2 Parties combined has been in decline for 60 years & we should strip that factor out.

Paul, that’s largely because labour voters were going to the lib dems and others. Whilst it shouldn’t be regarded as a forgone conclusion, it is probable that many lib dems will return to labour in the event of FPTP remaining and the coalition lasting.

@10 planetshift

I think you are right, many will go back however unenthusiastically to Labour. I reckon quite a lot won’t tho. Of course if FPTP remains, it won’t make much difference in many places; in my constituency neither Labour or the LD’s have a hope of unseating the Tory.

If the LD’s fail to get AV through, the authoritarian voices in the Labour party are only likely to be strengthened; I think we can kiss good bye to the chances of anything radical or progressive from Labour when they start to sniff a majority in 2015.

I’d quite like my vote to count for something, but given the current position of the “big three” I can’t see me voting for any of them!

The Tory Right will never take to Mr Cameron because they correctly recognise that he is not a Tory. That is why the likes of Gerald Warner and Simon Heffer despise him. I would argue that he is not even a Conservative. He is a right-wing liberal sailing under a convenient flag. Mr Cameron is more out of the mould of the old National Liberals who were assimilated by the Conservative Party than a true Conservative.

Most political parties are inhabited by ‘ idiosyncratic, swivel-eyed ideologues ‘ because activists are invariably obsessed with one issue and assume everyone else should be equally obsessed. Witness after the last election and the anti-Europe obsessed on the Tory Right who invented an alternative reality where if the Tories had been more anti-EU, they would have won a large proportion of the UKIP voters and won an outright majority. That all sounds so logical and plausible to an obsessive because they are totally oblivious to the millions that they would have lost from the centre.

Presentation is more important than ideology for modern political parties because they are selling a message. Therefore, presentation matters not because the public are stupid but because voters will not vote in large numbers for those who scare them. People care about their jobs, unemployment, interest rates and inflation. Deliver high employment and low the latter three and the public do not care if the government spit roast babies on the floor of the House of Commons.

Interesting that 79% of the tory grassroots felt that the 2005 elction manifesto was right, Probably 79% of the labour party agreed with the ’87 manifesto, i’d imagine by 2005 the amount of people who looked back and felt the labour ’87 manifesto was right would have been about 5%, Hopefully 15 years from now ,the amount of people in the Toires who agreed with its 2005 manifesto will only be 5% too.

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