The FT’s expert election panel will occasionally be giving their thoughts on the big themes of the campaign. Today, they each write a memo to their leader giving advice for Thursday night’s debate and the remainder of the run-up to the polls.
Charles Lewington, former press secretary to John Major:
David, you have three tasks in the final days – rebutting Labour’s attack on your economic policies, continuing with the tedious but important process of warning about the dangers of hanging the parliament and taking the gloss off the freshly minted Liberal Democrat brand without attacking Clegg personally.
The first is easier than the second and third – diversionary tactics! Greece, the pressure on the Euro, the slide in shares, all play into a growing sense among voters that we must move more swiftly to tackle the deficit than our opponents. Dictate the media agenda, put Labour on the defensive, ignore those who accuse you of provoking a sterling crisis (because you are not) and mock the numbers that sit behind Vince Cable’s £17bn tax package.
Task 2 is harder – because few people understand what a hung parliament means for them. One young voter asked me earlier this week: “Who do I vote for to get a hung parliament?” On the doorstep, keep plugging the simple: ‘Vote yellow; get Brown.’ In Thursday’s debate, remind everyone that Clegg has spent the last week prematurely dictating terms for his government of national unity. You must acknowledge that people think the system is in need of reform but warn that, as an issue for immediate resolution, the economy is ten times more important.
Task 3 is the hardest – because the Liberal brand appears, temporarily at least, stronger than its policies, however daft some of them are. Liberals specialize in saying one thing in London and another on the doorstep – expose this weak flank with good research and people will realize that the product is not what is says on the shiny new tin. Above all, focus on your three key messages: Only Conservatives will reward hard work and cut waste before raising your taxes and there can only be one Prime Minister after May 6 – not two.
Matthew Taylor, former director of policy to Tony Blair:
The memo I would send if I was a Labour advisor:
“We are facing a momentous week for the Party. Although the polling situation is confused and we could benefit from the electoral system, there is worrying evidence on the ground about Labour turnout. We have to accelerate and be bold, even if it involves taking risks. In the debate GB needs to rise above the fray (no jokes, no rehearsed attack lines, no policy lists) and make a direct appeal to the British people to vote not on the basis of personality or the inevitable grievances and disappointments that build up against a Government in power for 13 years but in answer to two questions: who has the most credibility as someone who can lead a country through difficult times and which party will make sure that ordinary families are protected when hard choices have to be made.
Whatever the questions GB must get two ideas into people’s heads: the Conservative are making a tax cut for millionaires a priority and the Lib Dems budget plan is full of glaring holes. The Tories may be credible but they are unfair, the LibDems may be fair but they are incredible.
Over the next seven days Labour will say only five words ‘vote for experience and fairness’. By the time we get to Thursday there must not be a voter in the UK who has not been invited to vote for experience and fairness. GB will commit himself to a punishing schedule of 20 hour days as will every other member of the cabinet and every Labour candidate.
Focussing on Labour Tory marginals and appealing positively to LibDem voters, Labour will demonstrate its conviction through iron message discipline and tireless effort. Starting with a brave, honest, passionate performance from GB tomorrow, we must make our party’s capacity to mobilise and hope in the face of adversity a metaphor for what we can do if we are re-elected.”
Miranda Green, former press secretary to Paddy Ashdown:
This is the TV election and you are winning it. On the eve of the final debate, we can hope to see you turn in a third superb performance. But how can you get the famous “late surge” in support that has eluded all your predecessor leaders? Furthermore, if Labour’s core vote, having been called bigots by the Prime Minister, now stay home on polling day or drift to the Tories, how can you stay appealing opposite a more confident Cameron?
- Get off the high politics and back onto the core messages about change and fairness, and just repeat ad nauseam the positive platform based on a few touchstone policies. This is crucial if we are not to see a 1992 style drift down in Lib Dem vote share and a lot of disappointment. Don’t discuss the other parties’ leaderships or strategies. Every utterance should be “Vote Lib Dem for the following reasonable, radical reason.” A lot of Labour votes will now be up for grabs and they won’t all want to go Tory.
- In the debate, resist the urge to “speechify” or to talk like a politician. (Re)create the relaxed seriousness of the first stand-off. You are a normal person – the others can’t do normal. The tax redistribution and a tax that puts a brake on runaway house price inflation are solid differentiating policies, which contrast well with Tory inheritance tax cuts and married couples tax breaks.
- Immigration. Because of Mrs Duffy, immigration, the issue that has rumbled beneath all political discourse in this campaign and the phoney campaign that preceded it, may come to the fore again. Remember that in the first debate you rightly and unapologetically pointed out the benefits of immigration while providing specific policy to deal with inconvenient truths. Voters’ concerns about depressed wages and pressure on services are legitimate. (Note: other policies misrepresented as ‘eccentric’ eg scrapping Trident shouldn’t be apologised for, either – the Lib Dems’ role in this fight is to think radically, and money has to be saved).
- Don’t insult any voters then blame your staff. But of course no one would do that.