A pianist picks out a tune on a piano. But he is drunk. And the piano is bust – missing keys and out of tune. In the background, people boo, heckle and throw bottles.
As Conservative MPs and activists ponder the result of this month’s general election, and assesses where it should go from here, their first task is to reach agreement about what it means.
In 1997, the Party won 31 per cent of the vote. In 2001, that figure rose by a single point to 32 per cent. In 2005, it stayed at the same figure. In 2010, David Cameron pushed the percentage up to 36 per cent. Five years later, he got it up to 37 per cent. On June 8, Theresa May gained 42 per cent of the vote, the same proportion that Margaret Thatcher won in 1987.
Is the electoral problem for the Tories, then, that they were poised to do better – and win a comfortable majority – but didn’t do so because May and CCHQ screwed up the campaign?
To put it another way, was the pianist to blame – Theresa May, with the social care manifesto blunder, the refusal to come clean about backing down from it, the ducking of direct debate with Jeremy Corbyn?
Or was it the fault of the piano – the bust computers, baffling full-colour postcards and faulty data of the McLoughlin/Gilbert/Crosby/Textor/Messina CCHQ campaign, chronicled on this site by Michelle Lowe and Hamish McFall? (P.S: ConHome has much, much more to come on this.) Or of both?
Or is it unfair to single out musician and instrument, while the real problem is that not enough people want to listen to the tune?
The Conservatives are unlikely to recover until or unless a consensus is reached within the Party about answers to these questions.
This will be hard to reach because of a peculiar combination of circumstances. First, May’s vote share was high. Second, she has no majority, is politically exposed, and does not have the confidence of her Party.
Such is the outcome when opposition to the Conservatives coalesces around a single party. It didn’t in 1987, and Margaret Thatcher won a majority of 102. It did this year.
However, it is not too early to begin to work out where the Party did well and where it did badly.
According to Lord Ashcroft’s poll of 14,000 voters on election day, the Tories –
- Held, like Labour, roughly 80 per cent of its 2015 support.
- Won handsomely among men.
- Lost narrowly among women.
- Won emphatically among those aged 55 and older.
- Boxed more or less even with Labour among those aged 44-55.
- Lost heavily among those aged 44 or younger.
- Won six out of ten of last year’s Leave voters.
- Won four out of ten of last year’s Remain voters.
ConservativeHome’s proprietor writes:
“Presented with a list of reasons which might have been behind their vote, Labour, Lib Dem and SNP voters said the most important factor had been that they trusted the motives of the party they chose; next, that they had preferred that party’s promises. Conservative voters had different priorities: their most important reason was thinking the party or its leader would do a better job of negotiating Brexit; followed by the belief that Theresa May would be the best Prime Minister.”
We wait for the magisterial British Election Study to report, and in particular to pronounce on turnout. But some lessons can none the less be drawn from June 8, and we will write about them during the course of this week.