Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Howard's Way

What the hell are the Tories up to?

I'm not one to intrude on private grief - I prefer to hold a party a little way away and gawp as the Tory party implodes, but this cannot pass without comment.

The Times alleged that the imported Aussie political superstar campaign director Lynton Crosby told Michael Howard that he was going to lose the next election, even before the campaign started. The Tories say that ain't so and are taking Times Newspapers to court for libel.

Now, I don't know the truth of the matter, but I would say that if Lynton Crosby (or anyone else) was in a private meeting with the core of the campaign team and was being honest about their prospects, he would not be helping the Howards choose the curtains for Number 10. If he has led them to believe that victory is genuinely on the cards, then some might question his political nous.

I don't believe politicians suing for gossip like this. It really isn't worth it. By responding to it in this dramatic way, they've given the story new impetus and kept it in the public eye for longer. Once the writ is issued, it can't be withdrawn this side of the election, as it would be taken as confirmation of the story.

The Tories reckon that this will silence a perceived pro-Blair/pro-Labour bias in the Times and I suspect that it is also planned as a shot across the bows of any other media organisation planning to rubbish the campaign. I predict that this will prove to be a massive miscalculation. Whatever you may think of the News International stable - including Sky News and The Sun - you cannot deny their potentially massive influence. Thatcher, Major and Blair all owed debts for the support from the Sun for their campaigns. Anyone remember the election day 1992 Sun headline? 'If Kinnock wins today, will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.' Anyone reckon that might have influenced a few wavering voters? You need these people on-side for the duration of the campaign.

The Tories have rammed a stick straight into a hornets' nest and they will regret it - the outcome promises to be bad for the party. If the case comes to court before the election (unlikely), then expect days of politically-embarrassing testimony. If it comes to court after the election, then whatever Crosby did or didn't say will be a moot point. In the meantime, they've angered a massive chunk of the media establishment. I fully expect this writ to quietly disappear after May 5, whatever the result.

Nice one Michael.

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