Crosby’s mimicry is too little, too late

Redbox article 16/04/2015First published on the Times Redbox

The Conservative party’s apparent political cross-dressing has left many people puzzling over why the party is talking about matters traditionally viewed as Labour strengths. In fact, this is classic Lynton Crosby.

Known as the ‘Australian Karl Rove’, and ‘The Wizard of Oz’, Crosby has long been associated with the negative campaigning that became the signature of the 2005 general election.

But he is also a master of mimicry. When things are going well for his opponent, and he cannot easily demolish it or find a way to fold it into the Conservative message, he will go all out and ape it.

The theory goes: run a carbon copy of the policy, close down the unhelpful dividing line and return to the three main messages of the given centre-right party’s campaign.

The final piece of the puzzle is to not worry about the detail; that can wait for government. What Twitter would call a #FirstWorldProblem.

Australia saw this in Tony Abbott’s bid to end two terms of Labor government down under. The Liberal campaign had three hallmarks that you can see repeating themselves here in the United Kingdom.

  • First, a highly negative, fear-based campaign – the ‘stop the boats’ immigration policy showed the Liberals at their worst.
  • Second, don’t worry about the sums – Abbott’s party didn’t announce its costed proposals until the day before the September 7, 2013 poll.
  • And, third, that any issues that were going well for the Australian Labor party – transformative education reform, no cuts to ‘health, education and the national broadcasters’ and Kevin Rudd’s new immigration reforms – to ape them and move back to the core script.

This week we saw two dramatic examples of this – George Osborne on the Andrew Marr Show trying to outspend Labour on the NHS and, yesterday, after months telling Labour’s childcare spokesperson Alison McGovern that her plan was unaffordable and unworkable, the Conservatives tried to better Labour’s childcare offer and take the issue off the table.

The Tories now have a promised £7bn in unfunded tax cuts, £8bn unfunded in NHS pledges, and an underfunded childcare package, all in an attempt to close down Labour’s lead on the cost of living, health and social care.

This will not work. It is all too little, too late.

Imitation may be the best form of flattery: the nearly identical manifesto covers of Abbott and David Cameron’s pitches for power – as Buzzfeed identified – is one thing, but the very fact the Tories are rerunning Abbott’s 2013 campaign and stealing the best bits of Labour’s 2015 effort is a sure sign that the Wizard of Oz is behind the Tories’ slipping mask.


Richard Angell is director of Progress, was a senior organiser for NSW Labor in the 2013 general election and is campaigning for Labour across the country, in particular in the marginal seat of Ilford North

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