Opinion: Lib Dems win the campaign but little else

Labour may have won the election but it certainly didn't run the most effective campaign - that came from the Lib Dems.

The Tories ran the most talked about campaign, but then I suppose that if you spend £250,000 on bringing in an Aussie (Lynton Crosby), sparks are going to fly. Indeed, this turned to flames in the case of immigration.

The problem with this issue is that once you let the genie out of the bottle it is very difficult to put it back. Apparently, Howard thinks that if he had returned to the issue at the end of the campaign, Tony Blair would have been finished. Rubbish. The issue simply affirms the impression that the Tories are 'the nasty party' and hardens votes against them.

However, Crosby and Howard did manage to restore professionalism at central office and ended, albeit temporarily, the bitter in-fighting.

Like the Conservatives, the Lib Dems' problem was their failure to move to the centre ground. While Charles Kennedy ran a great campaign, their main target seats were held by the Tories. The Liberal leader may have blamed lack of sleep for his failure to explain his policy on council tax reform, but the middle classes knew very well that his tax plans would hit them the hardest.

Moving to the left of Labour was bad politics, although Kennedy did a great job on Iraq, always underplaying his hand to avoid accusations of being a 'one issue party'. He knew Iraq would come up sometime during the campaign, though even in his wildest dreams he could not have thought it would play so big, especially on TV - there will be little criticism of the BBC from the Lib Dems.

One man you won't see involved in Labour election campaigns again is Alastair Campbell, as next time round Gordon Brown will be running the show and anyone associated with Blair will be long gone. The Chancellor may have saved the day for Blair, but the Prime Minister should have given him more prominence earlier.

Brown would have done two things differently. On Iraq he would have ensured that the legal advice was leaked months before the election to get the row out of the way. As for 'The Liberals', as he so disparagingly calls them, he would have attacked their policies from day one.

Soon the Tories will have a new leader. One not associated with Thatcher would help, and it will not have escaped strategists' notice that despite most people believing Blair to be a liar, he was still seen as a better leader than Howard.

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