Glenn Milne’s “how Ian Macdonald saved the 2004 poll” yarn yesterday (who could have been his source?) raises an interesting question. How good are
Crosby Textor? How good are some of the coalition’s key tacticians and
consultants? Have their messages hit home?

Politicians, of course, make their own luck – or turn events to their
benefit. Still, we seem to have forgotten how downcast many coalition members
were in the lead up to the 2001 and 2004 polls.

Even more importantly, we forget how the Government was outpolled in
1998, two years after
the largest victory in the history of Federation.

The “swings
toward the government” victories John Howard has scored since then have been due
to the unusually low base of 1998. And, famously, the Coalition has gone from
being in power everywhere except NSW when John Howard became Prime Minister to
losing every single subsequent state election.

These
thoughts have been prompted by today’s opinion polls and two speeches in
Britain,
one yesterday where new Conservative leader David Cameron sought to take the
mantle of Blairism and another today where he will be accused of betraying the
Tories by one of the hard men of the party’s right, Lord Tebbit.

Crosby
Textor played a controversial role in last year’s British election campaign.
Ditto in the New Zealand poll. Centre right parties lost
what should have been winnable campaigns in both. The Crosby Textor model of
complaining about illegal immigrants, unruly youths, dirty hospitals or
whatever failed in both. Indeed, arguments over approach were at the heart of
the dispute between Crosby Textor and Conservative Party co-chairman Lord
Saatchi – no mean campaigner himself.

Crosby
Textor tactics played no part in the Canadian election. And while there is no
threat to the Howard Government at the moment, perhaps our conservative
politicians should be looking at Cameron’s approach. He may be an opposition
leader, but the issues he discusses are relevant. Talk about how to run
government better, rather than sterile and self-defeating concentration on law
and order, might interest voters, give state Liberals a message and help John
Howard’s government with renewal.

The
Spectator
magazine recently observed Conservatism has “profound obligations to
secure what Disraeli called the ‘social welfare of the people’ and not just seek
to satisfy the material aspirations of the already comfortably off.”

Yesterday,
Cameron said Margaret Thatcher won the battle of ideas
in the 1980s and forced Labour to change. He said that Blair saw his job as
preserving the fruits of the Thatcher revolution, and that as Tory prime
minister his job will be to implement the agenda New Labour set itself but
failed to deliver – condemning the Labour politician who wants Blair’s job,
Chancellor Gordon Brown, as an instinctive centraliser and bureaucrat.

Cameron said Blair’s triumph has been to
focus on social justice and economic efficiency.

That’s a far cry from scare campaigns.
Indeed, they sound like some of the themes Mark Latham’s party were too thick
to understand. And Australian Liberals have been very successful borrowers of
ideas.

Peter Fray

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