Conservative campaign strategists in line of fire as recriminations begin – The Guardian

This post was originally published on this site

As party picks over pieces of disastrous election campaign, four people are likely to come under scrutiny

<!–[if IE 9]><![endif]–>Theresa May’s advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill are pictured outside Conservative party headquarters.




Theresa May’s advisers Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill are pictured outside Conservative party headquarters.
Photograph: Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

Conservative campaign strategists in line of fire as recriminations begin

As party picks over pieces of disastrous election campaign, four people are likely to come under scrutiny

Recriminations have already begun. The Tories lost their majority after a campaign riven with negativity, changing messages and U-turns, but the apportioning of blame will probably take some time. When the party picks over the pieces in the coming hours, here are four people likely to be in the line of fire.

Nick Timothy

Theresa May’s policy guru will be the first on the list for many Tories when they start looking for scalps. Along with Fiona Hill, he is one of the Pretorian guard around May. The pair’s management of May throughout the campaign led to complaints the prime minister kept herself too closeted from other advisers and ministers.

Timothy has been blamed for arguably the Tories’ biggest election catastrophe – the overhaul of social care which rival parties dubbed “the dementia tax”.

The policy, which originally put no cap on social care costs but allowed people to keep up to £100,000 of assets, was reported to have been inserted at the insistence of Timothy, against the advice of some Number 10 advisers including John Godfrey, head of the Number 10 policy unit.

As the scale of the policy’s unpopularity hit, May was forced into an embarrassing U-turn at the launch of the Welsh Conservative manifesto, where she said the government would consult on a cap. Nonetheless, one Tory MP described the pledge as going down “like a cup of cold sick” on the doorstep.

Fiona Hill

The other half of May’s minuscule inner circle, Hill’s brief during the campaign has been communications, though she has major influence on policy too, including May’s focus on modern slavery at the Home Office.

Hill has made herself unpopular with cabinet ministers, advisers and Tory MPs, particularly with her blunt text messages. Several Downing Street staff have departed in recent months, including Number 10 official spokeswoman Helen Bower, a senior civil servant; head of communications Katie Perrior; and press secretary Lizzie Loudon.

Hill has been put in charge of communications for the campaign, accompanying the prime minister to all her key speeches. Tories will want answers about why the message was so sombre and May such a “glumbucket” as Mail sketch-writer Quentin Letts memorably put it.

Even before the election, when May’s lead was falling in the polls, Tory commentators were advising her to make changes. “Demote or fire her two key aides, widen her team of advisers and appoint a new, strong single chief of staff from within government with a calm temperament,” the columnist Iain Martin wrote in The Times.

If the prime minister survives, many Tories will still want both of them out.

Lynton Crosby

The political strategist who seemed to have the golden touch in past campaigns for the Tories is being blamed for the “strong and stable leadership” tag-line which became the butt of jokes during the campaign after May’s staggering about-turn on social care.

“Coalition of chaos” – May’s line about the possibility of a Labour coalition with the SNP and Lib Dems, seemed to have no resonance with voters, in contrast to how the message worked against Ed Milband.

Crosby’s firm also ran Zac Goldsmith’s London mayoral campaign, which was widely condemned for its dirty tactics, including associating his Labour opponent Sadiq Khan with Muslim extremists.

The strategist is likely to have the finger pointed in his direction for the relentless attacks on Jeremy Corbyn during the campaign, including his history with the IRA, which some Tories feared meant their campaign had become overwhelmingly negative, in contrast to Corbyn’s messages of hope.

Theresa May

Ultimately, Tory MPs and those who have lost their seats are likely to put the blame on May’s shoulders. It may have been Crosby’s strategy, rather than her own idea, to run the campaign based on her personal brand but it has been a flawed one.

Before the campaign, May had strong poll numbers in her favour and voters in focus groups liked her determination to go through with Brexit and her self-description as “a bloody difficult woman”.

However, she has been prime minister for a mere 10 months, voters barely had time to get to know May, who is not the most natural campaigner. Running a presidential-style campaign based on someone still untested with the public was a gamble.

Her Home Office record also came under scrutiny after the terror attacks in London and Manchester. Her six years in the department and her determination to cut immigration was thought of by CCHQ as an asset, but sliding policing numbers under her watch became a major Labour attack line in the final days.

She responded with a vow to rip up the Human Rights Act, which looked like a last-ditch attempt to regain the narrative.

In the end, the decision to call the election in the first place lies with her, the ultimate gamble which has cost her party dearly and many will say needlessly.