Why fight hard where it won’t affect the overall outcome?
Just imagine what the impact on the next general election would be if David Cameron said something like this in his leaderâ€™s speech at the Tory conference.
“As we all know about 25 of our leading target seats are held by the Liberal Democrats and in the normal course of events they would be given special treatment in the run-up and during the campaign itself.
Extra resource would go in particularly from our centralised direct marketing operation, they would be on the list for leader and senior shadow cabinet visits, thereâ€™d be more bill-board advertising and it would be suggested to party activists in less critical constituencies that they go and help where it really matters.
Yet the mathematics of the election mean that even if we were to win all 25 Liberal Democrats target seats it would have no impact at all on the big picture â€“ stopping Mr. Brown from securing a fourth Labour victory. What matters above all else is winning Labour seats.
So I am announcing today that all centralised election resources will be focused on our battles with Labour and not on the side-shows with the Liberal Democrats or other minor parties”.
On the face of it Cameron would appear to be making a huge gift to to Lib Dems – but he would probably be the biggest gainer.
For the Tories these seats tie up a huge amount of effort and generally Lib Dem incumbents are pretty difficult to shift. So why bother to put a vast amount of effort in? Why not switch the resources to constituencies where it really matters? For the fact that the outcome of fights in Lib Dem – Tory marginals will have absolutely zero effect on whether or not there’s a Labour fourth term is not easily or readily understood.
Just consider what would have been the consequence last time if two Tory candidates well known to this site, Iain Dale and Rik Willis had actually beaten the Lib Dems in North Norfolk and Sutton & Cheam? Labour’s overall majority would have been exactly the same.
The Tories would still, of course, contest the seats – it’s just that the extra central resource would not be made available. Such a plan would set off immediate speculation that some sort of deal had been worked out between Ming and Dave with suggestions, maybe, that the Lib Dems were going to put the emphasis on their Labour targets seats not the Tory ones. It would also be seen in the context of a hung parliament that Cameron was preparing the way of some form of working with Campbellâ€™s party.
Ming might not like it but it would be difficult one to react to. he can hardly say that he wants the Tories to fight as hard as they can against his MPs. And many in his party would be secretly delighted at the apparent better prospect of retaining their seats.
The only problem, of course, is that this is not going to happen. Too many Tories hate the Lib Dems so much that the party would not let the leader get away with it. Also, of course, such a statement would be an implicit admission that a Conservative overall majority was not on the cards.