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Lynton Crosby: The reason the Tories won? (photo: Cobber27 CCBYSA 3.0)

In his speech to the Conservative party conference this autumn, the Prime Minister said that it only takes two words to make him smile these days. Those words are “exit poll”.

The numbers broadcast by the BBC as the polls closed at 10 o’clock on election night last May put the Conservatives close to a majority, and dumbfounded practically everyone in a country that had spent the preceding months in increasingly tedious conversations about hung parliaments, who would do deals with whom, and exactly how many rings Nicola Sturgeon would run around Ed Miliband. Everyone had expected days, if not weeks, of coalition negotiations to follow the results. When that exit poll was published, and when, a few hours later, some crucial seats actually swung towards the Conservatives, those tiresome conversations quickly faded into irrelevance.

We were all surprised. All of us, that is, except for the team at the centre of the Conservative election machine, run by Lynton Crosby, the “Wizard of Oz” with a reputation as a conniving and thuggish right-winger. In Why the Tories Won, Sunday Telegraph journalist Tim Ross reveals that Crosby had been running surveys in 60 seats since December, polling voters every day for the final month of the campaign. That secret data consistently put the Conservatives as the biggest party and the party’s internal final forecast, 329 seats, was just two short of the party’s eventual tally. (Isn’t it funny how private polls are always right while public polls, in which we can see the numbers for ourselves before the final result, are sometimes wrong?)

Notwithstanding score-settling memoirs written by once-senior politicians with time on their hands after an election loss — coming soon: Nick Clegg’s memoirs — political history is written by the winners.

Why the Tories Won
paints a clear picture of that win. In the blue corner, the Conservatives. Led by Crosby who, according to Ross, was calling the shots to a greater extent even than David Cameron, they were a disciplined, hard-working team. In the red corner, Labour were less focused, less honest about their shortcomings and less driven. Crosby would chair the Conservatives’ first meeting of the day at No 4 Matthew Parker Street at 5.45 am. The Labour team would not meet until 7.45 am; Miliband was not much of a morning person. While Labour boasted about having “four million conversations” with voters, many of those were in safe seats. By contrast, Conservative ground troops were better targeted and, thanks to American election guru Jim Messina, the message was highly tailored to different audiences.

Ross paints a rehabilitating portrait of Crosby, who has found himself with a reputation as a master of the dark arts. Good work at CCHQ would be rewarded with cuddly toy koalas or kangaroos tossed across the office. Without warning, Crosby would blast Queen’s “One Vision” — his unofficial campaign song — from his computer’s speakers to raise morale.

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