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May defied a warning snap Election was a ‘huge risk’

A bombshell secret memo that shows Theresa May ignored a warning that her snap Election was a ‘huge risk’ and could backfire has been leaked to The Mail on Sunday.

The ‘killer memo’ was written by her Australian-born Tory Election guru Sir Lynton Crosby in April, days before May announced the surprise June 8 poll. 

In it, Crosby, known as the ‘Wizard of Oz’ because of his record of election campaign successes, told her in stark terms there was ‘a lot of risk’ in calling a snap ballot. 

Voters were desperate to ‘avoid uncertainty’ – but by going to the polls, May was doing the exact opposite, Crosby warned.

All out: May’s joint chiefs of staff Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy, both circled, quit after the Election fiasco. Katie Perrior, pictured on the far right, quit as May’s spin doctor in April, lambasting ‘toxic’ Hill and Timothy. Only May’s bespectacled husband Philip, behind Timothy, remains to guide the PM

Instead of the landslide win she was banking on, she could easily end up doing no better than David Cameron’s narrow win in 2015, he added. In the event, she did even worse than Cameron and ended up with no Commons majority, forced to rely on the Ulster Unionists to cling to power.

The memo underlines how May paid a heavy price for Cabinet rifts. Crosby’s plea to her to focus on the economy was hampered when Chancellor Philip Hammond was sidelined in a feud with May’s joint chief of staff Nick Timothy.

This newspaper has been told Timothy reportedly referred to Hammond as a ‘c***’. Timothy resigned immediately after polling day.

The Election campaign was also hampered by a rift between Timothy and Crosby, with Timothy subsequently blaming the strategist for the party’s failure to notice the surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn among young voters. 

Timothy also argued that Crosby’s strategy of putting May at the centre of a Presidential-style campaign contributed to the Election disaster.

The sensational disclosure that Crosby argued against calling the Election in the first place comes as a new poll shows most voters, including Tories, believe it is ‘inconceivable’ that May will fulfil her surprise pledge last week to lead the party into the next Election, due by 2022.

Crosby's memo was sent to Theresa May days before her shock announcement on April 18 that she was calling a June 8 poll. It was based on responses from two hurriedly convened groups of floating voters and a national survey from his business partner Mark Textor and spells out in plain terms – some of which we have highlighted – that they believe there is a ‘lot of risk’ in calling an Election

Crosby’s memo was sent to Theresa May days before her shock announcement on April 18 that she was calling a June 8 poll. It was based on responses from two hurriedly convened groups of floating voters and a national survey from his business partner Mark Textor and spells out in plain terms – some of which we have highlighted – that they believe there is a ‘lot of risk’ in calling an Election

The Prime Minister’s ‘I’m not quitting’ comments flew in the face of a widespread view that she would stand down after Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

Many Tory MPs believe her latest remarks were a mistake and could revive speculation of a leadership challenge by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson or Brexit Secretary David Davis.

But The Mail on Sunday understands that the feud between Crosby and Timothy is key to her renewed confidence: she increasingly believes that she only lost because of Crosby’s campaign ‘mistakes’, and could win a second Election with a different strategy.

Worryingly for the Prime Minister, the Survation poll for The Mail on Sunday indicates Conservative voters think they have more chance of winning if she quits. Johnson is favourite to replace her.

The survey shows Labour five points ahead of the Conservatives – and if May goes head-to-head with Corbyn in 2022, a majority believe he will win the keys to No 10.

May’s critics will seize on the contents of today’s leaked memo to bolster their argument that she cannot lead them in another one.

The opening sentence of the ‘Election Strategic Note – April 2017,’ says: ‘Summary: There is clearly a lot of risk involved with holding an early election – and a real need to nail down the ‘why’ for doing so now. Voters are actively seeking to avoid uncertainty and maintain the status quo, yet by calling an election the Conservatives are the ones who are creating uncertainty.

‘Furthermore, there is a real risk that the Conservative vote share would end up broadly the similar to that the Party secured in 2015. Voters don’t want the uncertainty that an election will cause, in large part because they are worried about the risk of a hung Parliament creating chaos over the delivery of Brexit.’

One piece of advice in Crosby’s memo that May did heed was to portray herself as ‘strong and stable’ and target Corbyn. However, her ‘strong and stable’ image was left in tatters four days after launching her manifesto when she was forced to do a U-turn on her ‘dementia tax’ plan – and made it worse by shouting ‘nothing has changed!’ at a press conference.

An investigation by this newspaper has established further evidence of how May’s Election campaign was a shambles from start to finish.

She had pinned her hopes of a landslide win on Crosby, who helped Cameron pull off a surprise victory over Ed Miliband in 2015 and ran Johnson’s two successful London mayoral campaigns.

But Crosby’s first response on being told of the snap Election plan was: ‘I’m not sure that’s a smart idea, mate.’ He didn’t join the campaign HQ team in London until almost two weeks after it started as he was 10,000 miles away in Fiji on a long-planned family holiday.

Sources say Crosby raised concerns with May’s team about the so called ‘dementia tax’ – but it was too late, the manifesto was about to be sent to the printers.

May went ahead with the controversial plan, and chose to ignore polling research by Crosby that showed undecided voters were frightened to give the Tory Government a big majority for fear of what it might do with it. 

According to one Conservative insider, May confessed to close aides more than a week before polling day that she feared she was heading for a humiliating result.

The leaked memo prompted an angry response from a Conservative official: ‘We were all deeply disappointed by the Election result. But to suggest it was all the fault of one person or another is a travesty.

‘Lynton Crosby bears the same responsibility as everyone else. Playing the blame game will not get us anywhere.’

Another aide claimed Crosby backed the decision not to promote Hammond in the campaign: ‘To suggest Lynton wanted to use Hammond is a travesty. He was the one who said the campaign had to be about ‘strong and stable’ Theresa and no one and nothing else. That is why it went wrong.’

Neither Crosby, Timothy nor No 10 would comment last night.

So why DID you do it, Theresa? How the PM ignored ‘Wizard of Oz’ election guru’s memo and instead listened to ‘Brummie Rasputin’ aide Nick Timothy

Theresa May’s aide Nick Timothy wasted little time in putting the boot into Sir Lynton Crosby after the Election fiasco.

Timothy resigned within hours – only to then blame the Australian strategist for the result, saying he had not spotted the Jeremy Corbyn ‘surge’.

The ‘Brummie Rasputin’, as Timothy was dubbed at No 10 in reference to the bearded Russian mystic, pictured, also claimed Sir Lynton had made a critical error by forcing May into a presidential-style campaign. 

Timothy was dubbed the 'Brummie Rasputin'at No 10 in reference to the bearded Russian mystic, pictured

Timothy was dubbed the ‘Brummie Rasputin’at No 10 in reference to the bearded Russian mystic, pictured

Timothy wrote: ‘Theresa, never comfortable hogging the limelight, expected to make more use of her ministerial team. On the advice of campaign consultants… we eschewed our instincts. We were wrong to do so.’

The outburst was typical of the forthright style to which No 10 staffers – and Cabinet Ministers –grew accustomed. His most toxic rift was with Chancellor Phillip Hammond, who he would refer to a ‘c***’ in front of shocked officials, sources say.

Timothy’s ‘Blame Lynton’ narrative is key to understanding May’s vow to lead the party into another Election. In the aftermath of June 8, May was racked with guilt over the loss of Tory seats, and felt vulnerable after Timothy quit. Friends feared she was on the brink of quitting.

But refreshed by her summer break, May is increasingly persuaded by the argument that she could have won a mandate if only Sir Lynton had not messed up the campaign. The hand of Timothy can still be detected.

Her pledge last week to tackle corporate greed is a classic example of 37-year-old Timothy’s ‘Red Toryism’, rooted in his working-class background.

A source says: ‘Nick might not be in the building any more, but he is still making his presence felt. He does not just have a powerful influence on Theresa’s policies, he also helps to shore up her self-belief.

‘His dream revenge would be for her to fight another Election without Lynton – and win’.

‘I’m not sure that’s a smart idea, mate’: Campaign guru’s blunt response to Theresa May’s plan for a snap Election 

When he casually returned the call from the unfamiliar number a few hours later, he was surprised to discover the voice at the other end was Theresa May’s. She asked him to make an urgent call to Lord Gilbert, the Conservative campaign chief, without explaining why.

When Crosby got through, he told him that May wanted the pair to help her beat Jeremy Corbyn in a snap Election on June 8. ‘I’m not sure that’s a smart idea, mate’, replied Crosby in his broad Aussie drawl.

When Crosby inquired what research Tory HQ had done on how voters would react to an Election, since May had said there wouldn’t be one, he was shocked by the answer. None.

Divisive but effective: Sir Lynton Crosby

Divisive but effective: Sir Lynton Crosby

That wasn’t the only problem. When Gilbert said May wanted Crosby to return to London straight away to run the campaign, Crosby said he couldn’t. His wife’s party had just started and guests were arriving from all over the world.

But he agreed to draw up an urgent memo advising May on the pros and cons of an early Election. Crosby’s fellow Aussie business partner Mark Textor quickly organised focus groups of floating voters and a national private poll. 

They formed the basis of Crosby’s bleak ‘killer memo’ which warned May of the huge risk she was taking.

A Tory insider said: ‘Crosby’s research showed people liked what May was doing to help the JAMs (the so-called Just About Managing). 

But they couldn’t see why she needed an Election to do it. And they said ‘if we give her a big majority she might use it against us’. When she announced the dementia tax and cuts to winter fuel handouts for OAPs, and school meals, they felt their fears were justified.’

Another source said: ‘It was a mess.

‘Nothing had been thought through because the PM’s team were desperate to keep the Election quiet and didn’t trust anyone. Crosby wanted to use some tactics he did with David Cameron, but May’s people hated Cameron so much they refused out of spite.’

Crosby’s memo is believed to have been sent to May’s team within a week. By then she had been on a walking holiday in Wales and resolved to go ahead.

She announced the Election on April 18, just 11 days after she phoned Crosby – who didn’t arrive back in London from Fiji until more than a week after the campaign had started.

Crosby’s electioneering style is not everyone’s cup of tea. The Mail on Sunday has previously disclosed how he told Boris Johnson not to bother with ‘f****** Muslims’, and how he had boasted of getting Australian PM John Howard elected despite privately calling him ‘as dull as bats***’.

Crosby, 59, is credited with inventing ‘dog whistle’ tactics, whereby politicians echo shrill sentiments on populist issues like immigration, without actually endorsing them. 

His admirers say his skill lies in his ability to sum up Election prospects in a short, sharp sentence. His ‘killer memo’ certainly proved prophetic, which is why Crosby’s allies say May must regret ignoring the ‘Wizard of Oz’.