DA calls on pricey UK election guru to rescue image

17 June 2018 - 00:06 By THABO MOKONE

The DA has enlisted the services of a top international political strategist who charges up to R1-million a day in a desperate attempt to clean up its battered image ahead of the 2019 election.
The Sunday Times has learnt from well-placed DA sources that the main opposition party has roped in UK political strategist Sir Lynton Crosb to help bolster its electoral campaign and public communication ahead of the election.
Crosby does not come cheap. In March, British media reported that his firm was paid £4-million by the Conservative party for work on last year's snap election in which the Tories lost their majority in the House of Commons.
In 2016 it was reported that the Tories paid him £2.4-million for David Cameron's campaign.
According to UK newspapers, the Conservatives are now divided on whether he should be retained, with the prime minister said to be under pressure to get rid of Crosby following disastrous campaigns.
The DA is aiming to oust the ANC in Gauteng and the Northern Cape, and boost its numbers in the National Assembly.
But the party has been stumbling from one crisis to another in the past few months. It was widely criticised for how it dealt with former leader Helen Zille's tweets about colonialism, and recently has come under fire for the manner in which it has handled the Patricia de Lille saga - which analysts say may cost it votes in the Western Cape. Party leaders are also at each other's throats over the appointment of Natasha Mazzone as the deputy chairwoman of the federal council.The DA is also under pressure to come up with more innovative ways to win over voters as the ANC now has a scandal-free president with broad appeal.
DA insiders revealed this week that the controversial political strategist held meetings with senior party leaders a fortnight ago. DA leader Mmusi Maimane had not responded to questions at the time of going to print.
Siviwe Gwarube, the DA's executive director of communications, did not deny Crosby's involvement in election plans, although she said she was not at liberty to disclose "details of people and organisations we engage with".
She said: "As part of our efforts to run world-class campaigns which speak to the issues facing South Africans every day, we draw on a range of local, regional and global experts."
DA federal council chairman James Selfe declined to comment yesterday.
Crosby had also not responded to questions e-mailed to him at the time of going to print.
The Australia-born political strategist, known as the "master of the dark political arts", or "the Wizard of Oz", has managed the electoral campaigns of right-of-centre parties in several countries, including Canada and New Zealand.
Crosby is known for favouring controversial political slogans in his campaigns, having been the brains behind electoral messages such as "It's not racist to impose limits on immigration" and "How would you feel if a bloke on early release attacked your daughter?", which he crafted for former Conservative leader Michael Howard in his unsuccessful bid to oust then British prime minister Tony Blair in 2005.
A DA provincial leader who did not want to be named because the matter was meant to remain confidential for now, said some were worried about the involvement of Crosby in their electoral polls because of his right-wing roots.The insider said Crosby was being brought in to help polish the image of the DA, which has taken a battering because of its handling of internal party battles.
"I've heard in the corridors that he is coming to help the campaign. The assumption is that he is coming to help stop the haemorrhaging of the own goals. It's mainly at national level where we have leaders who don't know how to communicate and they say things that cost the party. But there are also concerns because this guy is known as a right-winger," said the provincial leader.
Independent political analyst Daniel Silke said the DA had been coming across as a "confused" party recently.
"The DA have had a very disappointing year in terms of their public relations and I would also argue in terms of the message coming out of leadership," said Silke.

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