Amol Rajan: The man who might get the Tories back on track

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The Independent Online

This may be the week that an Australian you've probably never heard of becomes the third most powerful man in government, after David Cameron and George Osborne. So today I thought I'd tell you a bit about Lynton Crosby.

Mr Crosby is a political strategist. Political strategists study public opinion, hone messages that will be electorally successful, bake them into campaigns, and implement plans to keep these messages clear and coherent. In the English-speaking world, Mr Crosby is probably the most sought-after political strategist alive – provided you're conservative.

He was the driving force behind the most successful conservative politician since Ronald Reagan, helping Australia's John Howard get elected four times between 1996 and 2004. In 2005, he came over to run Michael Howard's general election campaign, and was generally reckoned to have done a decent job. Since then, he has run the two successful mayoral campaigns of Boris Johnson in London, no small feat in a Labour-leaning city.

Mr Crosby's own politics are populist, and therefore sometimes ugly. John Howard should never be forgiven for his disgusting exploitation of stranded Afghan refugees during the Tampa affair of 2001, and it's a safe bet that Mr Crosby didn't persuade his master to go easy on the suffering women and children he saw as instruments to his own advancement.

The reason Mr Crosby may be hired is that, with Andy Coulson and Steve Hilton gone, the operation in No 10 Downing Street is said to lack rigour. And it's true that the public now think the government fundamentally lacking in competence.

That is one thing the Australian oozes. He is by all accounts a joy to work with – winners often are – has an excellent sense of humour, masters his brief very quickly, probably (being Australian) knows what 'googly' means, and is exceptionally focused on delivering electoral success. In other words, if the Tories do hire him, as several propagandists at other newspapers report is increasingly likely, he will very quickly become a hate figure for the centre-Left in Britain.

The main problem with Mr Crosby is that he is a devotee of negative politics. But for Conservatives looking at the latest polls, that matters little. They'd rather look ugly and win than look good and lose; and though choosing the former route is a blatant repudiation of everything Mr Cameron said he came into politics for, right now he needs Mr Crosby more than Mr Crosby needs the Prime Minister.