Tories hire John Howard's right-hand man

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Indy Politics

Michael Howard has recruited the man who helped his namesake, John Howard, win four elections in Australia to head his campaign for the general election expected next May. The Tories claimed they had pulled off a coup by appointing Lynton Crosby as their election campaign director.

Michael Howard has recruited the man who helped his namesake, John Howard, win four elections in Australia to head his campaign for the general election expected next May. The Tories claimed they had pulled off a coup by appointing Lynton Crosby as their election campaign director.

John Howard, who was re-elected as Australia's conservative Prime Minister for a fourth time this month, has described Mr Crosby as "the most outstanding political professional I have worked with in my 30 years of politics".

Mr Crosby has played a pivotal role in the Australian Liberal Party's four consecutive victories. He was its deputy campaign director in 1996, when Mr Howard won power; national campaign director in the 1998 and 2001 elections, and his firm was responsible for the polling and research in the recent campaign.

His record provides a clue to the approach the Tories might employ as they try to oust Tony Blair. In 1996, the Labour Prime Minister, Paul Keating, was unpopular but looked certain to retain power. Rather than claiming they would win, the Liberals virtually accepted a Labour victory but urged voters to "send him a message" - and they won the election.

Mr Crosby's opponents describe him as is " a full-on muscular Australian campaigner and the phone seems to be his weapon of choice".

His business partner, Mark Textor, is an advocate of the controversial practice of "push polling". This aims to change the way people vote by telling them information - sometimes inaccurate - about individual candidates.

Mr Crosby is regarded as one of the Prime Minister's most trusted confidants. One commentator said: "If the word apparatchik didn't exist, it would have to have been invented to describe Lynton Crosby."

Michael Howard said yesterday: "I have known Lynton for almost 10 years and am delighted that we will have the benefit of his professional expertise in the run-up to the general election." Mr Crosby said: "Throughout my friendship with Michael I have seen first hand someone who is direct, means what he says and has the determination to get the job done - not just to talk."

The appointment was announced as Labour accused the Tories of basing their election strategy on a pessimistic campaign to run Britain down. It branded Mr Howard as the "Victor Meldrew" of British politics. Alan Milburn, Labour's policy and election co-ordinator, said the election would be a battle between optimism under Labour and the Tories' "politics of pessimism".

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