Saatchi: Why Howard lost the election

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Indy Politics

A former Conservative Party chairman has delivered a thinly veiled attack on the Tory leader Michael Howard for conducting a "Basil Fawlty" election campaign designed not to mention tax cuts.

A former Conservative Party chairman has delivered a thinly veiled attack on the Tory leader Michael Howard for conducting a "Basil Fawlty" election campaign designed not to mention tax cuts.

Lord Saatchi, who was dropped by Mr Howard after the Tories' record third successive election defeat, accused the leadership of concentrating too much on immigration, focus groups and target seats.

Lord Saatchi, who was responsible for the "tax bombshell" which helped Baroness Thatcher defeat Labour in three elections, said the Tories abandoned their "trump card" in the mistaken belief that the voters no longer wanted tax cuts.

Likening Mr Howard to the Fawlty Towers character played by John Cleese, he said the Tories were told "don't mention the economy" in the mistaken belief that tax cuts had lost their appeal for voters.

"Ever since New Labour put on Tory economic clothes, Conservatives have been in a blue funk about economics," he said. "We have lost our moral and electoral bearings in the fog."

He said in four consecutive election victories from 1979 to 1992 the Tories had a 20-point lead on tax cuts. "Incredibly, some Conservatives said it was best to shut up about the subject."

He said critics of tax cuts said Tories talking about the economy were seen as "greedy, nasty and only out for your rich friends". He added: "These are the arguments that have held the Conservative Party in its wilderness years."

Although he has called his pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies How I Lost the Election, Mr Howard's allies said Lord Saatchi appeared to blame the Conservative Party leader for the débâcle.

"He had an issue with Michael in June and July last year about tax cuts," said a member of the Howard camp. "Maurice thought we should be doing more about cutting taxes, but all the research showed that the voters didn't believe we could deliver. Michael said he wouldn't commit to tax cuts unless he could show how they would be paid for."

Lord Saatchi accused the Tory leadership of trying to "ape Mr Blair's 'Clause 4 moment' - as in picking fights with right-wing tax cutters to prove left-wing caring credentials".

He also criticised the Tory leadership for concentrating their campaign on Tory target seats, instead of going all out for victory.

Lord Saatchi said he failed to "expose the myth of the target seats, which said that national polls were irrelevant because target seats were 'different'."

He added: "I did not dispel the illusion of research, which said that, as immigration was the number one issue in deciding how people vote, it should be the number one topic.

"I did not debunk the mirage of 'professionalism' by which marketing, advertising, mailing, calling can outweigh the power of a simple vision.

"I did not prevent economics - the Conservatives' former ace of trumps - becoming a 'second-order issue'."

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