Cllr Susan Hall is Leader of the Conservative Group on Harrow Council
In the fallout from the General Election, much as been written as to why the result went the way it did – and why we are now celebrating the first majority Conservative Government in 18 years. Labour are keenly floating conspiracy theories about the media and blaming the Conservatives for what they call a ‘campaign of fear’ regarding the SNP – conveniently forgetting that Nicola Sturgeon was already talking about forming a ‘block’ against the Conservatives before Parliament had even dissolved.
The surge in UKIP support in many seats, coupled with the collapse of the Lib Dems, no doubt played a part in the result as well. However, call me old-fashioned but could the overriding reason not simply be because the Conservatives had the better policies, ideas and track record, and were more trusted than Labour to deliver what they promised?
This election result is one pollsters will be torn between forgetting in a hurry and learning from, with polls until the day itself showing Labour and the Conservatives almost neck and neck.
That’s what the headline numbers showed, at least. But beneath these numbers, there was a clear consensus that in many key policy areas, the Conservatives were comfortably ahead. What’s more, the way the questions tended to be asked placed a specific emphasis on the ability and trustworthiness of the parties to deliver what they promised.
Take the obvious example of safe handling of the economy – YouGov polled economic competence nine times in 2015; the Conservative lead over Labour was in double-digits throughout, and the week before the election the Conservatives led Labour by 40 per cent to 22 per cent.
In fact, across the nine policy areas YouGov polled – which included Labour favourites like housing and education – in the final survey the Conservatives had an accumulated lead of 30 points over Labour.
One policy area where the numbers may come as a surprise is Europe. With UKIP polling well throughout the campaign, it is perhaps not a shock that the trust and competence numbers were closer – but the data does not show the UKIP dominance one might expect.
On the campaign trail in Harrow, two issues came up frequently when I talking to residents on the doorstep; the first being a £75 brown bin ‘garden tax’ recently imposed by the local Council’s Labour administration. Despite over 3,500 signatures from residents against these plans, Labour pushed them through in their budget in February, and the charge will be in place by October. We have campaigned against this charge for many months, and it is a good example of how a contentious local government issue can support Westminster campaigning.
The other topic that came up a lot was Britain’s relationship with the EU, which is obviously quite a contrast from bin charges – but just as important to people for different reasons. The Conservative promise of an in/out referendum on our EU membership went down very well indeed when our Europe policy was questioned, particularly amongst those who hadn’t heard about it before. It seemed reassuring to many, and was a sign the Conservatives took the issue of Europe seriously.
This is borne out by much of the polling – a Lord Ashcroft poll from last November put the Conservatives 32 to 31 ahead of UKIP on protecting Britain’s interests in Europe, and an Opinium survey from February split the two 29 to 13. By the time the election rolled around things had tightened again somewhat, but the Conservative lead still held – IPSOS MORI showed the Conservatives 4 points ahead of UKIP just three weeks out from polling day. Of course many are in favour of Britain’s current relationship with Europe, with some wanting it to be closer still – but it is notable that amongst those with eurosceptic views, the Conservative lead still held.
I am very pleased that we will be getting the in/out referendum on Europe, and judging by the reporting of Monday’s meeting of the 1922 Committee, so are many Conservative MPs. It is a policy which allowed the Conservatives to more than stand their ground during the election campaign, despite the lure of euroscepticism that sits at the heart of UKIP.
The referendum will place a great degree of trust in the electorate, with them having trusted the Conservatives with a mandate to deliver it in the first place. And finally, it’s a policy which seemed popular in ways that may surprise – including the Labour voter who told me they wished Labour had offered a referendum in their manifesto. They will vote “in” when the time comes, but thought it an excellent policy to offer the British people their say once and for all.