James Forsyth

Getting the Tories back on track

Getting the Tories back on track
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At the beginning of this week the key figures in the Tory election campaign gathered together in Notting Hill to try and work out what was going wrong with the Tory campaign, why the Tory lead has halved since December. Our cover this week attempts to answer this question. My take is that the problem is largely caused by the structure of the campaign.

Successful campaigns tend to have a chief strategist and a campaign manager. The strategist's job is to work out what the election is about and the campaign manager's role is to implement that vision and take charge of day to day tactics. The Tory problem is that they have no campaign manager and four men - Steve Hilton, George Osborne, Andy Coulson and George Bridges - who appear to be vying to be chief strategist.

So, what do the Tories need to do? First, they need to decide the two or three themes they want to fight the election on and turn those themes into clear messages. We are already beginning to see this happen with Osborne's message yesterday that people are worse off than they were at the last election. Second, William Hague needs to be used far more. He should be making the case to the Tory base and right-wing voters that the Tories - if not perfect - will be a vast improvement on Labour. Third, Hilton should be given his head on policy. His ideas will form the positive part of the campaign and give the Tories momentum again. But this positive message needs to be combined with a relentless focus on contrasting the Conservatives with Labour and, in particular, Cameron with Brown. Beauty needs a beast. George Bridges would be particularly well suited to overseeing this part of the operation. Finally, Cameron should throw away his notes. He is a far better speaker when he isn't reading a script. I know it is time consuming to speak without a text but Cameron is so good without notes that it would be worth massively cutting down the number of speeches he gives if all of them could be delivered in the style of his 2005 and 2007 conference speeches.

I still think a Tory majority is the most likely election result. When the electorate is faced with the choice of five more years of Brown, a hung Parliament or a Cameron government - I think they'll pick the third option. But the Tories cannot carry on being crippled by fear of losing an election they know they should win. They need to regain the momentum.