By Tim Montgomerie
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week in Birmingham I presented a ten step plan to deliver the first
Conservative majority since 1992. The plan is summarised on the new StrongAndCompassionate.com website. Part one of the plan was published earlier today. Part three will be published first thing tomorrow.
the Conservative Party could have designed an opponent it would
probably have come up with something that looks an awful lot like the
Labour Party led by Ed Miliband. Whenever they hold focus groups on
their opponents, Tory strategists return with broad smiles across their
faces. Two years after the trade unions chose him as the successor to
Gordon Brown, there has been no statistically significant increase in
the small percentage of voters who think Mr Miliband has prime
ministerial qualities. Just 3% think he is charismatic. 4% say that
he’s a natural leader. 5% agree that he’s strong. It will take a
political earthquake to substantially alter these numbers and last
week’s ‘one nation Labour’ speech by Mr Miliband, while impressive, was
not a game-changer.
And it’s not just Mr Miliband who encourages
the Conservatives. The Conservatives pinch themselves whenever they
think of the yesteryear quality of the Shadow Cabinet and of Labour’s
failure to detoxify its economic reputation. After it lost the last
election — winning, it should not be forgotten, an even smaller
percentage of the vote than was gleaned by the Tories in their
landslide defeat of 1997 — it was imperative that Labour broke free
from its association with debt, waste and taxes. Nothing better
illustrates its failure to achieve this than the fact that Ed Balls —
Gordon Brown’s leading economic adviser throughout the boom-to-bust
years — is back in charge of Labour’s economic brief.
Tories would be very foolish however to rely on Labour weakness to win
the next election. It would be a bet rather than a strategy. The Tories
have struggled to win a third of the national vote at four successive
general elections. There is something fundamentally wrong with the Tory
brand. For all of the reasons set out below the next election is going
to be difficult for the party to win. Small steps are not an option.
Bold changes are required if the party is to win a majority.
- FLATLINING: In 1992
John Major won 14 million votes and 41.9% of the vote. Conservatives
haven’t come close since. For twenty years the party has struggled to
win more than a third of the popular vote.
- SECOND BEST:
Margaret Thatcher’s peak percentage of the popular vote was in 1979.
Tony Blair never won a bigger percentage that he won in 1997. It’s been
forty years since a Prime Minister won a bigger share of the vote after
first being elected. And then Harold Wilson, in 1974, only added 2%.
Conservatives need something like an extra 5%.
Conservatives will be looking to increase their vote after making
deeper spending cuts than anything Margaret Thatcher ever managed. The
cuts won’t be finished either. They’ll continue well into the next
- INFRASTRUCTURE: The
Conservative Party’s infrastructure is weak and that includes a hugely
depleted grassroots membership and a less powerful and less loyal
centre right press. If The Sun (Telegraph, Mail and Express) ever did
win it for the Conservatives, it probably won’t ever win it for them
- SOUTHERN: Scotland
is almost a no-go area for Tories. The idea that the Tory brand is
toxic is spreading south of Hadrian’s Wall into significant parts of
northern England. Conservatives are weaker in the North of England than
in Margaret Thatcher’s day and, of course, much weaker in Scotland.
They are third-placed in many urban Northern seats, a long way from
- DIVISIONS: Compared
to Margaret Thatcher’s time when the Right was united and the Left
divided, the reality of Coalition government has reversed things. The
Left is currently united in the Labour column while the Tory vote is
leaking to UKIP. This is probably the biggest and most dangerous fact
of the parliament. Labour only need to keep most of Clegg's unhappy
left-leaning voters and for UKIP to grow to about 5% and Ed Miliband
will be Britain’s next Prime Minister.
- BOUNDARIES: Blair
could win a 66 seat majority with 35% of the vote while Cameron fell
twenty short with 36% of the vote. The failure of the boundary review
means that none of this disadvantage will be ameliorated. Conservatives
are now 20 seats further away from the finishing line than if the
boundary review had passed.
- CAPITALISM: Faith in
free market economics and the social mobility that it offers has been
badly shaken by the great crash of 2008. People have grave questions
over the capitalist system with which Conservatives are most associated.
- TOXIFICATION PART II:
Coalition is limiting Cameron’s ability to take credit for the new
priorities of his modern, compassionate Conservatism. Commitments to
the basic state pension, inner city schooling and the NHS budget, for
example, are being credited to the Liberal Democrats by large numbers
of floating voters.
- SHALLOW MODERNISATION:
Cameron is not seen to have kept faith with his early modernising
commitments on the organisation of the NHS, combating climate change
and promoting women ministers.
- UP-THE-OTHERS: The
two party system and party loyalty are in long-term decline, suggesting
hung parliaments and coalitions may be more frequent results of UK
general elections. The headwind facing the two party system is strong
and getting stronger.
- THE DARLING FACTOR:
Labour look beatable so long as Ed Miliband is their leader but what if
they change leader to someone more prime ministerial and/or who
represents a real break with the Brown/Blair years? A change is
unlikely – especially after Ed Miliband’s Manchester party conference
speech – but it’s a bet rather than a strategy to place too much hope
in Miliband’s survival.
- LIB-LABBERY: Most
Lib Dem activists describe themselves as Left-wing and in order to
maintain the idea of equi-distance between the Conservatives and Labour
it is very likely that they will want a Lib/Lab pact in the event of
another hung parliament.