Leading Tory donors are demanding the party’s contract with Crosby is ripped up after a disastrous election campaign he oversaw, which ended up costing Theresa May her Parliamentary majority.
A decision to end the Tories’ long-standing relationship with Crosby would represent a major blow to the Australian. He and Messina have just set up a digital marketing agency called Outra, which will advise private sector clients on how to use social media to build their brands.
It is understood that Crosby’s firm CTF is still being paid an annual multi-million pound fee by the Conservative Party. Messina also has an ongoing commercial relationship with the party. That has infuriated some powerful political donors, who have told Tory Chairman Patrick McLoughlin they want Crosby and Messina out of CCHQ. They are furious their money is being used to pay the fee at a time when there is no immediate prospect of a general election and remain angry at Crosby, in particular, over his failure to deliver a win for the Tories in June. They were 20 points ahead in the polls when May went to the country but that lead evaporated in the face of a stronger then expected performance from Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.
Crosby has let it be known he advised against calling an early election but the decision to build the Tories’ campaign around May’s personal brand is widely accepted to have been taken by him. Messina’s reputation has also suffered after the vote resulted in a hung Parliament in June. He was widely ridiculed for mocking a prediction by pollsters YouGov, which said that was a likely outcome.
A senior Tory party source said there is now a standoff between the donors who bankroll the party and the men who were hired to run the election campaign. That is because Crosby and Messina jointly own a huge electoral database that could prove vital to the party’s electoral prospects at a local and national level over the coming months and years. The data includes Messina’s data-heavy voter targeting models, a potentially invaluable electoral tool. If the Tory party decides to end its contract with Crosby, it stands to lose access to data that is potentially worth millions of pounds.
Some Tory funders are now questioning whether that data is as useful or as valuable as party managers claim, however, given the election result. They argue it would be easier and cheaper to start again by building a new database in-house. They have told McLoughlin they won’t be held to ransom and pointed out that the next election could be four years away. That is more than enough time, they insist, for the Tory party to acquire the expertise it needs to run a sophisticated campaign that will make use of modern online targeting techniques.
The power struggle has been complicated by the fact that McLoughlin’s position as chairman is under threat following the disastrous Tory election campaign and May’s shambolic conference speech last month. Now that his authority has been fatally undermined, donors fear McLoughlin does not have enough clout to end the party’s relationship with Crosby. CCHQ, as Tory central office is known, was once regarded as a ruthlessly efficient election-winning machine. But the party has won a Parliamentary majority only once since 1992, when David Cameron formed a government in 2015 that proved to be short-lived.