Was Zac Goldsmith's 'nasty' campaign orchestrated from on high?

'Zac, who I know pretty well, is actually a really interesting, thoughtful, somewhat anti-establishment character,' former Tory adviser Steve Hilton says

Charlie Cooper
Saturday 07 May 2016 13:15 BST
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The tone of Zac Goldsmith’s campaign has been called ‘disappointing’
The tone of Zac Goldsmith’s campaign has been called ‘disappointing’ (Getty Images)

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Senior Conservatives have questioned the extent to which Zac Goldsmith was in control of the direction and character of his heavily criticised London mayoral campaign, amid a growing backlash within the party in the wake of Sadiq Khan’s resounding victory.

Former Chancellor Ken Clarke suggested that either the media or “some misguided advisor” bore responsibility.

The campaign was criticised for focusing on attempts to link Mr Khan to alleged Islamist extremists, and for targeting voters with selected messaging according to ethnic group, such as Hindus and Sikhs.

Critics within the party said the campaign's deployment of "dog whistle" politics had proved divisive, and would damage the Tory's record on race relations.

“I don’t know how far Zac ran it,” Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions.

“But the likelihood was every Muslim in London would be turned out to vote for the other side and a lot of metropolitan people in London who have perfectly civilised, one-nation Tory views thought this was rather startling.”

Mr Goldsmith’s sister, Jemima, also took to Twitter as the result became clear on Friday night, to criticise her brother’s campaign and claim it “did not reflect who I know him to be”.

The campaign was advised by CTF Partners, the strategy firm run by Sir Lynton Crosby. Sir Lynton himself, who helped mastermind Boris Johnson’s successful City Hall campaigns and the Conservative’s 2015 general election win, and was knighted yesterday, is said to have taken no direct role in the Goldsmith campaign.

Steve Hilton, David Cameron’s former advisor, told BBC Newsnight that the campaign had brought back “the nasty party label to the Conservative party” and expressed his surprise that Mr Goldsmith should be the figure at the centre of the strategy.

“The overall impression I got from Zac’s campaign was a rather old-fashioned and frankly kind of uninspiring campaign,” he said.

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“Zac, who I know pretty well, is actually a really interesting, thoughtful, somewhat anti-establishment character in politics and he’s got a very interesting set of views of different kinds on different issues and it seemed to me that none of that was conveyed in his campaign, which to be honest I found rather weird.”

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