Magazine article The Spectator

'Now We Have Have Got Have Something to Say'

Magazine article The Spectator

'Now We Have Have Got Have Something to Say'

Article excerpt

George Osborne, Tory election chief, tells Fraser Nelson that the party is ready to launch its campaign, and criticises the 'uber-modernisers' who won't talk about tax or immigration

A new map hangs in George Osborne's office, showing the latest parliamentary boundaries for the next general election.

It could have been designed to soothe the nerves of a Conservative party election co-ordinator, for it is dominated by Tory blue. A few tricks have been used to achieve this optical illusion. There is no Scotland, for example, and marginal Labour seats are painted a faint red. But overall the picture is of a Conservative country, and an election which is eminently winnable.

This is how Mr Osborne sees it - and not, he insists, just to keep morale up. 'Although I never said so at the time, I went into previous general elections I was involved in - 1997, 2001 and 2005 - with a sense of foreboding, ' he says. 'I felt it probably was not going to be the triumph we hoped it was and that we said publicly.' Not this time. 'I really feel we have a good message, a good campaign and a real prospect of winning.' And as campaign director, it's his job to turn this optimism into reality.

Last time the Tories hired Lynton Crosby, veteran of the Australian Liberal party campaigns, to be their election guru. This time David Cameron has turned to his closest parliamentary ally, Mr Osborne, the shadow chancellor, asking him to run the war room. And from the look of things, the war is already on.

From Osborne's goldfish-bowl office we can see rows of Tory workers toiling away. Every desk is occupied. Defaced pictures of Gordon Brown are on the walls. It is hard to think it would be busier at the height of an election campaign.

'We have had more than enough time to prepare, ' says Mr Osborne, gesturing at the workers. 'Gordon Brown, this supposed political genius, has taken all the surprise out of an autumn election. We're all geared up. We have a £10 million election budget guaranteed by our party treasurers for the initial election period. I think people would be surprised to see how we will be able to launch our initial fightback within literally hours, or minutes, of an election being called.'

The mechanics may be in place, but what about the politics? I put it to him that the Cameron project - of which he was a joint architect - has been all about saying, 'We've changed', but not so clear about what it has changed to. So his problem is that the public, for all its frustrations with the Labour government, have no firm idea about what a Conservative government would do. I wait for an angry rebuttal, but none emerges.

'I think that's fair, ' he says, slowly. 'Over the last 18 months, we have earned the right to be listened to. But now - as you put it - we have got to have something to say. We've undertaken our policy review process. You don't hear any more that the Tories don't have any policies;

people ask how the ideas will come together.

So by the time David Cameron sits down on the Wednesday, at the end of our party conference, we want people to be clear about what the Conservative party message is.'

No pressure on Dave, then. After 18 months of failing to make clear what a Conservative government would do, he must now do so by the middle of next week. Mr Osborne says we should expect a mix. …

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