By Tim Montgomerie
Last night ConHome published Lord Ashcroft's warning that the Labour movement could be a significant drag on Ed Miliband's chances of becoming Prime Minister. Using polling and focus groups Lord Ashcroft (the co-owner of this website) noted that there was a big gap between Labour activists and swing voters on (1) the reasons for Labour's defeat, (2) the need for the party to change and (3) the way forward on the economy.
Lord Tebbit – without, it appears, polling evidence – argues that Ed Miliband's route back to power is by energising natural Labour supporters. "Ed," blogs the former Tory Chairman, "is the man most likely to get Labour's five million lost voters back to the polls. He is unlikely to neglect the chance to feed off the discontented Lib Dem supporters, but he will not neglect to strengthen the party’s natural constituency."
My big question for Lord Tebbit is the source of this five million figure and who exactly are these "lost voters"? He must be including a lot of the Mondeo Men/ Worcester Women that put Blair in power and they certainly weren't natural Labour until Blair wooed them with his tough messages on crime and (broken) promises to keep taxes low*.
Tebbit and Ashcroft have history. Tebbit long argued against David Cameron's move to the centre and used the same five million figure to urge the Tory leader to win power by appealing to natural Tories. In his blog Lord Tebbit blames Cameron's neglect of base voters for his failure to win a majority.
In the Independent on Sunday, former Home Secretary Alan Johnson (a supporter of David Miliband) backs what I'll call the Ashcroft argument. "We do need to restore trust with our traditional supporters, but we also need to win back the middle-class voters who switched to the Lib Dems," he writes. Johnson notes Labour's wipeout in south-east England and warns against allowing Cameron to dominate the centre ground:
"We know elections are won on the centre ground of politics. We learned that the hard way in the Eighties, as did the Tories from 1997 onwards. Our success in government was to shift the centre ground to the left. David Cameron has done much to detoxify the Conservative brand in order to try to follow us. He now holds together an unholy alliance of left-leaning Lib Dems and (still) Europe-obsessed right-wing Tories. This allows him to pitch up in the middle. Recognise also that the Tories, not the Lib Dems, are the target. This is a Tory government with the Lib Dems strapped on as ballast."
* The one area where swing voters and the Labour movement are in perfect agreement is, according to Lord Ashcroft''s polling, in anti-banker sentiment. This – no doubt – is why 10 Downing Street is relaxed about – even encouraging of – Vince Cable's anti-City rhetoric.