One request earlier in the week was typical; Please put us in touch with a gay, green Tory so we can give our audience a taste of the new Conservative Party. Of course, I said, I can point you in that direction. There are some candidates who will meet your specifications but you won't be giving your audience a full account of why David Cameron has restored the Conservative Party to the verge of power.
So for the benefit of international readers who are interested in the real reasons why the Tories are close to an election-winning opinion poll position, I've jotted down a few bullet points…
The main reason why David Cameron is likely to be Britain's first Conservative Prime Minister in 13 years is Labour failure. The incumbent Labour government of Gordon Brown has doubled the national debt. The UK economy has suffered one of the longest and deepest recessions of any developed countries. Across a range of indicators Labour has failed. 80% of Tory members explain their own party's lead in terms of Labour failure.
Traditional Tory messages have twice rescued the party. Twice in recent years the Cameron project has got into difficulties. Once in the autumn of 2007 when Gordon Brown enjoyed a 'honeymoon' after he first became Prime Minister and in February and March of this year. In both periods a slide in Tory popularity was reversed by promises to cut taxes. In 2007 it was a promise to abolish inheritance tax for all but millionaires. In the last two weeks it has been a promise to stop nearly all of a £6bn 'jobs tax', planned by Labour.
Without the 'modernisation' of the Conservative brand voters might not have listened to the tax cutting message. In underlining the importance of the two tax cuts (above) I don't mean to imply that David Cameron's modernisation of the Conservative Party (sometimes called 'decontamination') wasn't important. The changes that David Cameron has made to the Conservative Party – protecting funding for the National Health Service… developing an agenda for the poor… emphasising green issues… greater candidate diversity – mean that more people are willing to listen to the Conservative Party than when it was narrowly interested in just a few issues.
Where Cameron has modernised the Tory brand he has usually done so in a distinctively conservative way. So, for example, in fighting poverty Mr Cameron has advocated strengthening marriage, tough requirements for those on welfare and school choice for parents. On the environment his Climate Change spokesman, Greg Clark, has said that no measure to reduce Britain's carbon footprint will be taken unless it delivers other benefits to the nation, eg in delivering cheaper household energy bills. It's worth noting that the environment is hardly being mentioned in the Tory campaign. In a leaflet summarising ten top Tory policies it was completely omitted.
Cameron's Conservative Party remains the party of Margaret Thatcher. If Cameron wins the General Election the membership of the parliamentary Conservative Party will be at least half new. It will be the biggest intake of 'freshers' in modern times. And they are 'the children of Margaret Thatcher'. They want welfare reform. Control of the trade unions. Lower, simpler taxes. They are pro-marriage. Sceptical about the European Union. They regard defence spending as a number one priority. Some disciples of Margaret Thatcher have, over the years, come to think of her only in revolutionary terms. Yes, she transformed the British economy but she was also a pragmatist. She left the BBC, National Health Service, welfare state, among other things, untouched. David Cameron will deserve the same latitude to be pragmatic as she enjoyed.
Will the Conservatives win? The scale of Labour's failure gives the Conservative Party a very good chance but I offer three cautionary thoughts:
- The Conservatives need the biggest swing from Labour to the Conservatives in post-war Britain. Cameron needs a bigger swing than Margaret Thatcher achieved in 1979.
- The electoral geography is stacked against the Conservatives. There are a variety of explanations but the size of Labour seats is, on average, a lot smaller than the average Conservative seat. Labour won a majority in the House of Commons of over 60 in 2005 with a 3% lead. The Tories probably need a lead of 5% to 8% to get even a majority of one seat.
- Labour has created a huge public sector vote. With the state spending more than half of the UK's national income there is a large bloc of voters who get all or part of their income from government and they are more inclined to back Labour (the most pro-state party) as a result.
> Related link: Is Cameron more of a Thatcher or a Heath?