Commentary about Lord Ashcroft’s latest Project Blueprint report is bound to concentrate on what it implies about the outcome of the next election. His article on this site today covers that ground – and I can add nothing to it that I haven’t written already.
Instead, I want to touch on what the report suggests about the Conservatives’ long-term problems, rather than the shorter-term situation. The sum of the table above is that the Conservatives score markedly better than Labour for being “willing to take tough decisions for the short term”.
None of the three main parties otherwise get a positive response from more than a third of the respondents on any of the statements above. The Conservatives come closest on being considered competent and capable, taking 31 per cent compared to Labour’s 28 per cent.
However, they lag Labour on all other indicators – “represents the whole country”, “stands for equal opportunity”, “stands for fairness”, “wants to help ordinary people to get on in life”, “on the side of people like me”, “its heart is in the right place”, “will do what they say” and “shares my values”.
And this polling, remember, is of people who at worst might be persuaded to vote Tory – it doesn’t take into account those who say that they would never do so. In short, even they believe that the Conservative brand lags Labour on eight measures out of ten.
One can quibble about these measures or suggest other ones, but their message is clear (and unlikely in my view to be questioned by other polling). The Tories have an appeal to voters’ heads, but not to their hearts: on values as a whole, Labour out-poll them – though neither Party is doing well.
This helps to explain why among voters as a whole, 58 per cent would consider voting Conservative while 72 per cent would consider voting Labour - a YouGov finding Tim Montgomerie first wrote about on this site over two years ago.
Very simply, the evidence suggests that the Tories have a reputational problem that is worse than that of their main rival. And since the Conservatives have been around for along time – indeed, they are one of the oldest political parties in the world – that problem is unlikely to a new one.
It follows that it is unlikely to be solved quickly. However, this doesn’t mean that it can’t be solved at all. As I keep saying, the Tories could do worse than look at how other successful centre-right parties in the Anglosphere have won elections, and how its last big election winner did so too.
Stephen Harper, Tony Abbott, John Howard, Margaret Thatcher – all of them succeeded by carving out an appeal to the striving or battling voters (or whatever you want to call them) who are well represented in the marginal northern and midlands seats David Cameron needs to win or hold to gain a majority,
In other words, the Party needs to build up a conservatism for Bolton West not just for the short-term, but in the medium-term too, if it is to solve its reputational problem – the scale of which Lord Ashcroft’s latest report helps to confirm.