Friday, 14 January 2011

Why the Conservatives lost the General Election

Tim Montgomerie at ConservativeHome yesterday outlined his reasons why the Conservatives didn't win the last election outright. Read it here and see his entertaining 'blobogram'. To me the reasons are more fundamental and ultimately based on not having one 'the buck stops here' campaign manager to lead the thinking and drive the strategic thought.

The foundation of any campaign is a compelling, easily understood message. From this comes the strategy. Much is made - often too much - of strategic thinking without recognising that there are some fundamentals that need to be undertaken before you reach the conclusions which, eventually, become your strategy. This is where, I believe, the Conservatives failed.

A strategy is much more than a collection of tactics - no matter how strong these are. There is no doubt in my mind that the Conservatives 'won' the election campaign in nearly every key department: social media, traditional media, visuals, advertising, literature. However the election as a whole was not won.

Accepting that the Conservatives had a mountain to climb at the last election, that the electoral boundaries were stacked against them, there is still a view that the Conservative campaign was lacklustre. I disagree, there was great energy at CCHQ, at all levels of the professional and volunteer party.

They faced an opponent in Gordon Brown who had no strategy for government. Any organisation that lacks direction in this way will fail to communicate - as was the case with Brown. Perhaps this led to a certain level of complacency; as Brown failed to define who he was, the Conservatives thought they didn't need to define themselves either.

This was, for me, the essential failure of the campaign for the Conservatives. They failed to define themselves or offer up a point of difference. It meant those working on the campaign were missing the essential ingredient of any strategy: competitive advantage.

It is common in the business world to see that the basic principles that make for a sound strategy get lost somehow. Leaders often get bogged down in fighting the battle not winning the war. We can see this too with the tactics being applied at CCHQ in the early part of last year.

Of course there were messages, policy announcements and soundbites but the difficult work of defining what the Conservative Party was offering, creating a narrative doesn't seem to have been done. We were invited to join the government but not told why that might be an attractive proposition.

In the end it is too easy to conclude that the Conservatives fought an election on who, or what, they weren't. Admittedly few found Gordon Brown a particularly attractive proposition but without a defining call to arms the same can be said of the Conservatives.

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