Lord Ashcroft: The Tories need to show that it matters who wins.

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As we approach the general election next May, Slugger will be hosting a series of articles looking at the chances of each of the main parties next year. Writing for us on the Conservatives is the former Deputy Chairman and pollster, Lord Ashcroft.

Since I stepped down as the Conservatives’ Deputy Chairman in 2010 my role has been that of the pollster, not the strategist. I set out the lie of the land as objectively as I can; what the parties do to conquer the territory they need is up to them. But there are some clues about whom the Tories need to persuade, and what they need to persuade them of.

At the last election the public had decided they had had enough of Labour, but they were not convinced they wanted a Tory government instead. From the point of view of governing the country, then, going into coalition was the only realistic option at the time for David Cameron, as I explained in Minority Verdict, my account of the 2010 campaign. Even so, from the moment the coalition was formed, victory at the next election looked like an uphill struggle for the Conservatives.

For one thing, Labour’s numbers were boosted by disgruntled Liberal Democrat voters horrified that their party, which they had always thought of as the left-wing alternative to Labour, had gone into government with the Tories (and never mind that Nick Clegg had always said that in a hung parliament he would talk first to the party with the most seats and the most votes).

Not long after, Conservatives unhappy with the inevitably compromises of coalition started to drift to UKIP. They were not the only voters to do so – former Lib Dems in search of a new none-of-the-above option also defected, together with previous Labour supporters who felt their party no longer represented them – but UKIP’s rise hurt the Tories most of all.

As in the years before 2010, the Conservative Party struggled to attract new voters to replace the defectors and overcome the replenished ranks of the opposition. During their time out of government the Tories never managed to dispel the perception that they were not on the side of ordinary people, and they have found it even harder to do so while presiding over the age of austerity. The party’s long term future depends on appealing to those who may never have considered it before – not least ethnic minorities and younger, northern and urban people for many of whom the idea of voting Tory is completely alien – but it is too late to fix the brand before May 2015.

Despite all this, according to precedent the prospects do not look too bad for the Tories. Labour lead only narrowly, and the opposition’s support usually erodes rather than grows as polling day approaches. The economy is on the up, even if most people are yet to feel personally better off. The Conservatives are also more trusted than Labour on economic management, and David Cameron trounces Ed Miliband on practically every measure of leadership.

This is usually an unbeatable combination at an election. But how far will precedent apply in 2015? With a coalition government, a prominent fourth party, a less tribal electorate and people ever less willing to vote for whichever of the two main parties they dislike least, the old assumptions may no longer hold. My recent battleground research has found UKIP actually leading in seats like Thurrock and Thanet South traditionally slugged out between Labour and the Tories, and the Greens picking up disaffected former Lib Dems in places like Norwich.

The Conservatives therefore face an unenviable task. When it comes to the economy, they need to be able to explain that their policies are working and, at the same time, that the job is not finished and Britain needs more of the same. Moreover, people need to understand the end to which austerity is the means. How will the “Long Term Economic Plan” benefit them when it comes to personal prosperity and public services? Questions like immigration and the EU referendum are also important for many, but are not top priorities for all those the Tories need to win over.

When it comes to leadership, the Tories must contend with the fact that while some will vote Conservative because of David Cameron, many will vote Labour despite Ed Miliband. They should certainly exploit the leadership gap – but not repeat the mistake of 2010 and waste valuable airtime telling people what they already know about the other side.

After the election, one of two parties will be in government, and one of two people will be Prime Minister. As things stand, too many people think that who gets to call the shots in Whitehall is neither here nor there. The Tories, like Labour, need to show that it matters who wins.

Visit LordAshcroftPolls.com for full details of Lord Ashcroft’s research and to sign up for news alerts. You can also follow him on Twitter: @LordAshcroft

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  • mickfealty

    I’d agree with most of this Michael. I was working at the Daily Telegraph up until a year before the last election and so probably paying more attention to Westminster politics than I’m accustomed to normally.

    My feeling then, as now, was that the Tories spent too much time trying to demonise Brown in ways that simply did not translate to the ordinary Joe in the street. If anything it set up a counter wave with people I spoke to at the time.

    They were tired of Labour, but they did share the perfect hatred of the Westminster insider village for the inexpressive ‘son of the manse’. Coulson’s ‘get Cam on the radio every morning’ tactic did not allow for this slow roll out of what they might actually do in government.

    The result is that Cam’s government has suffered a whole series of unforeseen shocks and jolts both to the party’s own internal and external audiences.

    I also see this pattern with the southern coalition in Dublin. Two parties, long out of government wasting a lot of ammunition in scrappy skirmishing with too little thought for what must be done next, and how it might define it’s administration terms of its effects on ordinary lives.

    Irish Labour in particular did a spectacular Icarus impersonation flying particularly close to the European sun with “it’s Labour’s way, or Frankfurt’s way”…

    This is the same class of ball watching, or more specifically putting too much value on the necessary evil of attacking your opponents..

  • Michael Henry

    It’s been said that a week is a long time in politics and it’s still a few months to the Westminster elections- but unless there is a major slip up I still think David Cameron will be prime minister at no 10 for the next term- With UKIP and DUP support despite the pretend hate / dislike of each other-( That should stop Cameron going to Dublin for the 100 anniversary of the 1916 rising no matter how much is made in trade )-

  • kensei

    The Tories have a demographic headwind against them given the failure to change the boundaries after alienating the Lib Dems. They may come to regret that one. Well opposition supports tends to erode – it has usually started by now and it looks like the Lib Dem switchers have stuck with Labour, because those left winf voters are really, really pissed off. UKIP is a wildcard, and the Euros paid to the lie they don’t hurt Labour too.

    The economy might help, but it is worth bearing in mind the pace of austerity was essentially paused and there is a whole lot of work on the finances to be done after the election, which is liable to make this campaign difficult. Focusing on Miliband is a potential mistake as well I think – the debates are baked in now and that is a prime opportunity to show actually, you aren’t a complete moron which is generally all that is needed. Best guess is hung parliament again, leaning Labour.

  • Sergiogiorgio

    The Conservatives just need to keep reminding the electorate of the pigs ass that Labour made of the economy. Milliband and Balls have simply no economic credibility. They managed to shift most of the focus onto those nasty bankers but the government of the day, Labour, facilitated an economic meltdown. Frankly if people are stupid enjoy to vote in a “lefter” leaning Labour government then they deserve what they get and can the last person to leave the country please switch off the lights…unless the Unions have got the power workers out in strike. Look across the channel mes amis if you want to see what a socialist government would have done for the UK. The numbers don’t lie and the rest of it is just noise.

  • the rich get richer

    Err’r Does it though.

    Does anybody actually believe that either will do anything discern-ably differently

  • Sergiogiorgio

    TRGR – yes, I can guarantee that under a Labour government the fiscal deficit will increase significantly. People may not like the nasty Tories but at least they have the balls to make the tough decisions. Labour just exist in a champagne drinking socialist la la land.

  • the rich get richer

    Not a whole heap I’d say.

  • gendjinn

    “The Tories need to show that it matters who wins”

    The last four years of shite has amply demonstrated it.

  • Guest

    England will be an Islamic state in 100 years or so because it failed to create enough jobs for its own people who then failed to reproduce and have families big enough to support the existence of an English/British way of life. Whereas the recent import of ultra conservative super religious Muslims, whose belief in western materialism is minimal, will ensure that the Muslim man will have the whip hand and the wife will produce as and when he feels like a quick jump, while the likes of England and its more liberal western-ized citizens will quickly go into demographic decline and wipe themselves out. So this is all a bit academic. Can we hit the fast fwd button?

  • the rich get richer

    All (almost all, Muslims included) human beings are money grabbers and materialistic.

    Its just that most Muslims have never had decent amounts of money.

    I suggest you give any Muslims you know “loads of money” and watch them go the way of the rest of us.

    If you actually know any Muslims that is.

    And if the Muslims start costing us too much money we will deal with that too.

    Because we are money grabbing and materialistic !

  • Guest

    Yes true but by the time the Muslims reach that point it will have taken 100 years or so to become acculturated by then the English will have been wiped out demographically as they are ahead of the consumerist materialistic curve and will not reproduce if it means taking a cut in their own lifestyles and personal enjoyment. Whereas Muslims are more stoic as they come from or have a memory of coming from or belonging to or having had a belonging in backward shiteholes that have not had post-Hitlerian human rights frameworks imposed on their backward states / failed states. So recent-ish Muslim migrants will have had a memory of what it is like with no money and lives and families in failed states, but the trade off being they the males in the family instead derive power from position and control over the family life, the wife does what the man wants and that includes sex and having large families. Both linked to religion and being a minority community in Britain therefore the more Muslims the better.

    This is the real Twilight Over England – complicit in its own downfall, unbelievable. David Cameron doesn’t need re-elected but instead slapped all over the face for being silly and only wanting office for prestige purposes than for any reasons related to good hard headed government, that would mean upsetting people and dividing lines ans so on. He should be slapped out of office before it’s too late to roll back Twilight Over England.

  • Michael Henry

    We are talking about next years elections but you want to predict 100 years time when you suggest the Muslims will take over England -but will it be the Muslim Tory party that takes over or the Muslim Labour Party that takes over-or do you suggest that there is a new political party on the way-

  • Guest

    The English community needs to confront Cameron, globalisation, international finance and open labour markets and wrestle some control back for its own people and wrestle some jobs back for its own people. Twilight over England.

    But I also attach a photo of the % increase of Islam in Ireland for your own consideration.

  • the rich get richer

    Maybe grants could be given to young English girls to have some children.

    In fairness the young eastern european women are definitely having some (I don’t know if its enough for you and are you making any efforts yourself) kids so its vey hard to tell whats going to happen.

    Maybe the Christian/Hindu/An Other God will come down and explain to the Muslims that they are wrong.

    God help us if Allah makes an appearance.

  • Guest

    The plan had initially been to fly the flag over the Council building throughout the weekend but there appears to have been a bit of a rethink and the flag was quickly taken down again following the speeches.

    On Thursday the council leader Peter Rankin had announced the Town Hall would fly the Palestinian flag “in solidarity with the people of Gaza who are locked in a bitter and long lasting conflict with Israel.”

    A new release was issued on Friday afternoon to say the city council had now u-turned on its decision.

    The Union flag is now to fly at half-mast over the Town Hall for the weekend and a peace flag will be flown from Monday 28 July for a week.

    http://blogpreston.co.uk/2014/07/council-uturn-after-palestinian-flag-is-raised-over-preston-town-hall/

    Below some comments realising the ‘Twilight Over England’.

  • Mister_Joe

    Dear guest,

    I would be most grateful if you will tell me the winner of the next Grand National, less than 1 year from now. In fact, any old race will do so long as the winner will be a longshot.

  • Guest

    Look at the face of London, England will follow and go the way of London, it’s all but over for England as we know it thanks to its liberal political elite opening the country up wholesale to globalisation and shafting its own English community in the process. Simply because the political elite mistakenly believed doing this would have no real socio-economic and cultural consequences. These elite politicians failed to discern this as they reside in a different social strata well above the normal person and so far removed from the people that their decisions actually impact upon, it takes longer for the damage to reach this lot as they are much higher up. A bit like a flood, flooding the lowlands first before making its way up higher plains. When it does it will all be too late for them as the edifice which once supported them electorally and politically will have been washed away.

  • Comrade Stalin

    Look at the face of London, England will follow and go the way of London

    A stable, cosmopolitan, 21st century world city, a home for 18 million people with its own very unique and proud sense of identity. God that would be terrible.

  • Comrade Stalin

    So explain it to me. Why I am supposed to be afraid of Islam ?

  • I’m Trending on Twitter

    Re London, I can tell you a family member of mine his mum died of cancer, died at the start of month, her body is still waiting to be buried in London due to a shortage of undertakers in the area or pressures on undertakers. He’s back at work while his mum is not at rest and therefore no closure for him. That’s not a nice thing to have to experience. The London that he knows and that I hear of isn’t ‘A stable, cosmopolitan, 21st century world city, a home for 18 million people with its own very unique and proud sense of identity’.

  • terence patrick hewett

    Try walking down Brick Lane with a can of Special Brew in one hand and a bacon sarnie in the other singing “Hey! Hey! I’m proud to be Gay”