Sunak’s new tactic will lead to Tory voters staying at home, warns Boris Johnson campaign strategist

Lee Cain worked on the Vote Leave campaign and was Boris Johnson’sommunications director. Now he has a warning for Rishi Sunak

David Maddox
Political editor
Thursday 13 June 2024 08:28 BST
Rishi Sunak asked if he will be Tory leader post-election

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One of the architects of the Vote Leave Brexit referendum victory in 2016 and Boris Johnson election win in 2019 has warned that the Tory leadership’s new strategy is likely to be counterproductive and see voters stay at home.

Lee Cain, who was Boris Johnson’s communications director in Downing Street, has hit out at the Conservative Party now warning against a Labour “supermajority” suggesting that his experience showed it would suppress the Tory vote.

Taking to X (formerly Twitter) Mr Cain, who has founded Charlesbye Strategy, was highly critical of the line put out by defence secretary Grant Shapps yesterday amid serious concerns that Tory voters are switching to Nigel Farage’s Reform UK or staying at home.

Lee Cain is unimpressed by the latest
Lee Cain is unimpressed by the latest (PA)

Mr Cain said: “Is the Tory’s ‘don’t give Starmer a super majority’ message a good strategy? Probably not - here’s why: It’s designed to motivate the core Tory vote - especially those considering shifting their allegiance to Reform.

“As a political strategy, it’s a high risk move. Telling your voters they are on the losing team will usually depress turnout on your *own* side. “

He noted that the Brexiteers on Vote Leave ruthlessly used this tactic to suppress the Remain vote in the EU referendum in 2016.

“During the referendum, the Vote Leave campaign pushed the (true) message that Remain voters were less likely to turn out because we knew it would depress their vote. “

Mr Cain noted that the Tories are also missing the fear factor they had in 2019.

“While the public are not overly enthused about a Keir Starmer premiership, they are not concerned about him in the way voters were about Jeremy Corbyn.

“However, while evidence suggests this tactic may backfire nationally, it may be a helpful message for individual candidates in targeted local seats as it will allow them to disassociate from the national campaign and run almost as an independent on their local credentials.”

Mr Shapps warning against a Labour “supermajority” was taken as the Tories pulling up the white flag with them still around 20 points behind Labour in the polls.

The Sky News debate last night highlighted the way that Tory voters are abandoning the party with a self described “true blue” former party chairperson telling Mr Sunak that she did not know how she would vote.

Three members of the audience told the programme afterwards that they had changed their minds from voting Tory after Mr Sunak’s performance.

Meanwhile, members of a Tory member only Facebook group said that Mr Sunak is “the gift that keeps giving” for Sir Keir Starmer.

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