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Tuesday 23rd July 2013 | 16:48
Lynton Crosby has given politicos perhaps the only chance we have of a story today - by killing a story.
The statement today from the Tory elections stategist was clear enough: "At no time have I had any conversation or discussion with or lobbied the prime minister, or indeed the health secretary or the health minister, on plain packaging or tobacco issues."
Certainly, it was clearer than the PM's own, repeated, refusal to answer the 'conversation' question. The straight-talking Aussie knows all about the importance of keeping your message simple and one can only wonder what he thought of the PM's own answers of late.
When I asked the obvious question today, ie 'why the PM couldn't say something as equally clear?', a No.10 source told me that the PM speaks to hundreds of people and was reluctant to be put in a position where he was specific about a possible conversation he'd had.
Furthermore, if he'd answered that question about a conversation with Crosby on plain packs, he would then have started what No.10 calls an 'endless game' of questions about other possible conversations.
"He didn't want to get into the game of being asked 'did you have conversations on this and on that?'," the source says.
All of which suggests the PM was just being ultra-cautious because he couldn't remember every conversation he has had with Mr Crosby (and that there have been so many that it may be difficult to recall them all).
Of course, Crosby's timing is pretty shrewd*, finally burying the row under the cover of the Royal Baby news.
But there is one other possible explanation: the PM always knew this was a non-starter and wanted Labour to inflate the balloon just so it could be poppped easily this week. Maybe that's too clever by half.
Yet some in Labour's ranks wonder whether making Lynton Crosby the bogeyman is all that smart. Trying to make him a proxy for saying Cam is in hock to Big Tobacco, Big Booze and Big Oil was always going to founder without evidence. Some think that it's better to make each case on its merits and on his failure to make the right judgment call on policy, not his choice of CCHQ strategist. Coming across as conspiracy theorists never endears the voters, especially if the conspiracy is disproved.
The 'lobbying scandal that never was' is less important than the actual policy decisions taken. As Elvis didn't quite put it, a little less about the 'conversation', a little more about the 'action' (or inaction) may be Labour's better tactic.
*FOOTNOTE: The fact that the Cabinet Secretary has also today replied to Ed Miliband to say there's no need for an investigation suggests a wider No.10 strategy here too.
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