Written for the eve of the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool, Simon Kuper has written an outstanding analysis of the challenges facing them. Worth reading by anyone involved in politics. Especially if you’re a member of any of Northern Ireland’s former ‘big fish’ parties!Worrying signs of disconnection:
Before the last election on May 5, candidate Nicholas Boles had thought he would at least win Hove for the Tories. He didn’t. Boles later realised that his sums had been wrong. One of the reasons, he says, was that “a couple of thousand local Tories had died since 2001. It’s a worrying result, and actually it’s been repeated in lots of other places”.
And the world has moved on from the Thatcherite heyday:
It’s dawning on the party just how much Britain has changed since Thatcher was driven out of Downing Street in tears, 15 years ago. The average Briton has 50 per cent more income now than then. They are much more likely to have been to university, they don’t believe a woman’s place is in the home, they work longer hours, travel abroad on budget airlines, are as likely to be single or divorced as married, and are not obsessed with the second world war.
One of the key blocks to future prosperity is the party’s tendency to look backward in nostalgia:
Stealing from Blair starts with stealing the way he sees the world. To Blair, the way Britain did things in the past is irrelevant. He has never got sentimental about the second world war, Clause 4 of Labour’s constitution, grammar schools, mines or old maids cycling through the morning mist to Holy Communion. He rarely even mentions the past. What he usually talks about is adopting best practice for the future.
Boles also criticises “our belief that the past was better than the present, our scepticism about the promise of the future”. Populus found that two-thirds of Tory voters believed that “Britain was a better country to live in 20 or 30 years ago.” In an economic boom, with far more people than ever educated for a good career, they are probably wrong. Most Britons tell pollsters that the present is better than the past. Nostalgia, in modern parlance, is “so over”.
Hence, as Ashcroft writes, Tory voters in May were disproportionately people “aged 55 or over, who were retired or not working, who owned their home outright, and who read the Daily Mail or The Daily Telegraph”. As one defeated Tory candidate grumbled way back in 2001, every day a Tory voter dies and a Labour voter turns 18.
And ‘whinging’ doesn’t help either:
Ancestor-worship is one Tory sin. Another is berating everything the government does: attacking the present, if you like. Last autumn, 70 per cent of voters thought “the Conservatives just attack the government over whatever happens to be in the news, but never say anything positive.” On the first day of the election campaign, after Blair had proclaimed his “driving mission for a third term”, Howard responded that voters could “reward Mr Blair for eight years of broken promises and vote for another five years of talk, or they can vote Conservative”. Undecided voters in Ashcroft’s focus groups didn’t like Blair’s rhetoric, but they liked Howard’s negativity even less.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty