How John Major could have won the last General Election

Steps to take within the Conservative party

1. What is really needed in this area is to stress party unity to the parliamentary party, either informally (through an organ like the Whips’ office) or formally. One of the ways to put a strong message across to the backbenchers would be to address the 1922 committee. In this address the approach should be to inform them in no uncertain terms that in the next general election 16 years of conservative government are on the line, as are their seats. They must be made aware (for it seems that some are not) that the government will have a much greater chance of keeping power if they stop attacking the government. It may be worth reminding them that it is their jobs that are in jeopardy if the election is lost, if it seems appropriate to appeal to their baser instincts.

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It also seems appropriate to advise you to stress to the parliamentary party the fact that they should be extremely discreet in their private lives as there can be no more scandals before the election, although it may be better to put this particular message across informally, though no less forcefully. Enforcing party discipline must be a major area of any general election strategy, so it is imperative that the backbenchers fall into line behind the government until the general election. It may be prudent to offer a referendum on any further constitutional change caused by the EC, for example a single European currency, but it is also important to strike a balance between using the carrot and the stick, for it must not appear as if we are being held to ransom by a small group of backbenchers.

They could be asked for their opinions about strategy for the election and the way that they think the party should be moving. The backbenchers should be made to feel important (and they are with the current small majority) and it should also be stressed that they are all members of the Conservative party and that they all have to unite now, whatever their differences, or risk a Labour government. It should also be emphasised that voting against the government over the rest of its current term could cause it to fall, and therefore the backbenchers should be informed that if they have any problems with a specific piece of legislation that they should make their displeasure known through informal channels, and that the government will investigate any problems that they may have.

2. As party unity needs to be emphasised to the backbenchers, collective responsibility should be emphasised to the cabinet, with particular emphasis being given to making no more inflammatory speeches (such as Michael Portillo’s at the conference). The cabinet needs to speak as if with one voice, so selective leaking should be very much frowned upon unless it is in the common good. It should be made clear to the cabinet that, as the higher echelons of the conservative party, they should be setting an example to the rest of the parliamentary party and that it would be better if old wounds on Europe should not be stirred up by making confrontational speeches.

Negative Campaigning

It is absolutely imperative that no part of this section of this document be leaked as it could cause major damage to the party and significantly affect our electoral prospects if comes into the possession of either the media or the opposition.

It has been said that one of the major differences between the two major parties and their differing electoral successes has been the fact that the Conservative party has been much more ruthless in its pursuit of power than the Labour party, and consequently it has had much more power. The Conservative party is currently trailing the Labour party by 18 points (source – October 1995 gallup poll), and if ever it needs to be totally ruthless in order to keep its hold on power, it is now. Negative campaigning and personal attacks therefore must be fully used as electoral weapons, and in this section of this document ways in which this might be achieved have been set out for consideration :

1. Set up a special, totally secret task force to very discreetly dig into the private lives of prominent Labour politicians to try to find ‘skeletons in their closets’. If any are found (and full efforts should be directed towards making sure that they are) they should be used to target the figure who has the ‘skeleton’ and force them onto the defensive. The rest of the Labour party will have to either a) defend their colleague or b) distance themselves from him or her , courses which are both fraught with difficulty as they can then be accused of a) trying to defend the indefensible or b) disloyalty. If this is done to maximum effect the optimum outcome would be disillusionment with the Labour party because of their scandals (and hopefully conservative backbenchers will be more careful with their own private lives after they have been warned to do so).

Another benefit of this is that the Labour party will be forced onto the defensive as they will be too busy coping with scandals that it will not be able to go on the offensive by stating its policies and attacking the conservative party. In this matter, particular attention should be given to encouraging splits between Blair and Prescott, for example by stressing their radically different political views. It will be interesting to learn if the old ‘fire and brimstone’ left-winger Prescott can be brought out again, and how much baiting it will take to do so (his slip in calling Tony Blair ‘Tory’ Blair appears to suggest that he does not totally trust him or the way that the party is moving).

Particular attention should also be given to attacking and discrediting Blair – try to tarnish his nice image, possibly by attempting to portray him as ruthless and authoritarian in the way he controls his own party, an unprincipled power seeker, in much the same way that some in the Labour party tried to portray him as a Stalin-type figure. Blair is a major electoral asset to the Labour party and we should try very hard to tarnish his image. Another major figure in the Labour party (under no circumstances should the Labour party be referred to as ‘new Labour’, it should always be as the Labour party, as that currently has a more negative connotation) who should be concentrated on is Peter Mandelson, as the very mention of his name seems to stir up trouble among some left-wing Labour MPs.

2. The Labour party should be portrayed as being divided, with Blair and the modernisers on one wavelength and the left-wingers on the other. They should be portrayed as disagreeing over fundamentals, with the smell of power the only thing holding the party together. This area of campaigning should be a two-pronged strategy, with the Conservative party concentrating on unifying itself (or at least giving the appearance of being unified) whilst portraying the Labour party as being wracked with internal divisions. It is interesting to note, that before we have given this area serious attention, 49% believe that the Labour party is divided, a figure that grew enormously over the summer months (the figure was 28% in June) after many left-wingers attacked Blair for his ‘Stalinist’ handling of the party.

3. Major effort should be given to trying to discredit ‘new’ Labour as much as possible by trying to get them to state their policies on a wide range of subjects then examining them in detail, costing them (as was successfully done in the 1992 election) and making the electorate wary of voting in a Labour government. We need to exert great pressure on the Labour party to attempt to make them crack under the strain and make mistakes that can be capitalised upon. When they make mistakes, for mistakes and ‘gaffes’ are virtually unavoidable in at least a small measure in politics, they must be seized upon, amplified and used to portray Labour as a party unfit for government.

Policy Areas

Economic Policy and the Budget

The battleground that nearly all elections are fought and won and lost on. However, there is a significant problem here, for 44.9% believe that “with Britain in economic difficulties” (Gallup,p2) the Labour party could handle the problem best, with only 25% believing the same about the Conservative party. This presents problems, for if the Conservative party is to win the next general election, it is imperative that people’s perception of the state of the economy should be heightened. Our economic position must be ‘talked up’. It must be stressed that it is the Conservative party who have been traditionally reliable on the economy, and that we still are.

The one bright spot in this area of the polls is that most people (47.5%) believe that their personal economic situation will stay the same, meaning that they will be easier to persuade that their situation will improve than those who believe that their economic situation will get a lot worse. All Conservative economic achievements over the last 16 years should be stressed, and also the good shape that the economy is currently in. The party must attempt to get the feelgood factor back in the economy, for this the best chance that the Conservative party has to win the next general election. There are also many economic achievements under Conservative government that can be mentioned :

1) Inflation is totally under control – it has been around 3 % for the last 3 years

2) The economy is growing (it is the fastest growing in Western Europe according to the OECD)

3) Stress the fact that our enterprise economy is one of the most competitive in the Western world – point to the amount of recent foreign investment – also stress that this is because of us not signing up to the social chapter, unlike the Labour party who would tie us into every piece of European legislation without thinking. The country as a whole is mildly Eurosceptic, so pander to this, adopting a mildly anti-Europe line, but try to stay away from this area as much as possible, because it will probably antagonise the backbenchers.

There are 2 major choices on how to conduct this sphere of policy :

1) An extremely radical approach to this area would be for only a small tax cut (or even none at all) at the budget and to direct this money into a job creation scheme, for example a major house-building operation, which would have the dual advantages of combating homelessness (and so appearing ‘caring’ – something which the voters no longer associate with the Tory party (gallup poll – 27% believe the Conservatives are caring, as opposed to 68% who see them as uncaring) and creating jobs for the unemployed (and giving them skills). The training of these people, the purchasing of the building materials, etc. could be put out to tender, making sure that it still has elements of conservatism.

This would also put the Labour party on the defensive, as they would have to support a measure like this or risk being labelled ‘uncaring’ (every effort possible should be given to attempting to get the Labour party to state its position on the issues, something it has been extremely good at avoiding since Tony Blair became leader). Attempts should be made to put forward popular policies (like the nursery education voucher scheme) and then to try to make the Labour party oppose policies such as this, to try to turn around the whole ‘caring’ perception of the electorate. It is probable that the Conservative party will not be seen as ‘caring’ by a huge majority, but it is important to try and shape the perceptions of the electorate so that the proportion that see us as ‘uncaring’ diminishes.

2) Go for major cuts in public spending and try to cut taxes by as much as it prudently possible, emphasising the benefits both to the people and the economy as a whole of lower taxes, the problem with this approach being that the electorate could just see it as a bribe to vote Tory, however this approach has worked extremely well in the past and conforms very strongly to the Conservative ideology. If this option is being considered, then it would be fruitful to consider the different areas of the tax system that should be adjusted, for example VAT could be lowered, the minimum wage that tax is paid at could be raised, as well as the traditional option of reducing the basic rate. The country seems to be expecting a cut in the basic rate so this could be an excellent chance to wrongfoot the opposition and gain some badly needed political momentum.

Education and Health

Conservative reforms in these areas have undoubtedly suffered from indifferent presentation, and therefore the public’s perception of them is more negative then positive. This situation cannot be allowed to continue as health and education are two areas that the Labour party will concentrate on in a general election campaign. The Conservative party must put a positive ‘spin’ on our achievements in these two policy areas, and the best way to achieve this is to explain that the principle central to these reforms is ‘choice’. In this area it is important to publicise the fact that the Conservative party is removing choice from the government and giving it to the people, while the Labour party, if elected, would do the opposite thing. The National Health Service and Education reforms are seen as cutbacks, but it must be emphasised that are reorganisations to improve services, not cutbacks.

General points on campaigning

1. In the general election campaign experience in government should be stressed, with the fact being pointed out that the Conservative party has had 16 years in government as opposed to Labour’s total lack of experience. Remind the country briefly what it was like in 1979 (but do not overemphasise this as it is but a distant memory for many of the electorate) and then point out the state of the country now – emphasise that it is in a much better state now after 16 years of conservatism. Ask the question of the voters if they want to risk losing all the benefits gained over this period under a Conservative government by electing a totally untested, inexperienced Labour party that no-one knows what it actually stands for?

2. The Labour party will attempt to portray the Conservative party as weak, uncaring and disunited. They will try to deflect attention from their policies by attacking ours. It is imperative that we make minimal / no mistakes as any that we do will be promptly seized upon by the opposition.

3. One point that absolutely must be borne in mind, both during the election campaign proper and in the run-up to it is that elections are virtually always won on the centre ground of politics. The current political climate of this country is very much in the middle ground, and the party must not let itself be perceived as being unduly far to the right, a lesson possibly best illustrated by Barry Goldwater’s performance in the 1962 Presidential election, to borrow an example from overseas. It is possible that this election will be won or lost by whoever keeps the ‘extremists’ in their party under better control, as we will try and portray the Labour left as being ready to come out after the election (if they win) and hold a Labour government to ransom, in much the same way as they will attempt to make the electorate think that the Conservative party is being held to ransom by a few MPs on the right wing of the party. Having stated this, we must still emphasise the differences between the Labour party and ourselves, both ideological and practical.

4. There is a significant chance that the Labour party will attempt to turn the next election into a referendum on the last 16 years of conservatism, the major problem with this being that only 13.2% approve of the government’s record, while a massive 75.6% disapprove of it (Gallup:p1). It is imperative that the many achievements under Conservative rule be stressed, as we can justifiably claim to have changed the whole country for the better over the course of our administration.