John Stevenson is the Member of Parliament for
Carlisle and the Chairman of the Blue Collar Conservatism Advisory Group. Follow John on Twitter.
On Monday, I will be speaking at a Blue Collar Conservatisn event on perceptions of the Conservatives amongst ordinary voters and their
implications for victory in 2015. I will
be speaking alongside former Defence Secretary, Liam Fox; fellow North West MP
and Disabilities Minister, Esther McVey and the journalist Martin Durkin,
producer of Margaret Thatcher: Death of a Revolutionary.
Going into this event, I believe that last week’s local
election results are the perfect illustration for the challenge and the
opportunity awaiting the Conservative Party in 2015. Much has been written in the past week about
what the results mean for each of the parties, with a good deal of advice about
what David Cameron should do – ranging from tacking right to tacking left to
doing nothing at all.
In the 2015 Election, I will be defending one of the most
marginal seats in the country. Carlisle
is a traditionally Labour Northern, industrial and largely urban seat. It is at the front line of the seats we need
to hold, but is also representative of the kind of seats which we need to
win. Without Carlisle and the seats like
it across the North and Midlands, we will not be forming the next government. Yet despite the difficulties which the Party
faced in the County Council Elections, I am actually more confident than I have
been in a long time.
Do not get me wrong: we have a mountain to climb to win the
next election. No one can deny the scale
of the challenge which the Conservatives face in 2015, just to maintain our
current position, let alone secure an overall majority.
Without decisive action, we will find ourselves back in opposition. Too many people still do not believe that we
are on their side. Amongst many of the
voters which we need to connect with we are seen as not being for people like
them. Many are turning to UKIP, some
will look to Labour and I will wager that even more of them will simply stay at
I became involved with Blue Collar Conservatism because I
believe that it is these voters which hold the key to winning and holding seats
like Carlisle. At the 2010 General
Election, the Conservatives received the largest swings from C2 and D voters and
it is these same voters who are now considering moving away from the
The blue collar vote is now more fluid than ever. This is perhaps not surprising, given that it
was these voters who lost out most during Labour’s time in office. In the North in particular ,it was these same
voters which contributed significantly to the progress of UKIP. Nigel Farage
has done as much to position UKIP as much as a blue collar movement as it is a
recipient of discontent in the shires.
Many commentators have been quick to point out that Labour
also has a UKIP problem. However, I
would contend that Labour’s UKIP problem is actually our problem – as the votes
which UKIP is leeching away from Labour are the very voters we should be
attracting. As Labour continues to lose
its grip on its old voting base, many essentially conservative C2 and D voters
are looking to Nigel Farage’s populist protest movement rather than looking to
the Conservatives as a vehicle for their advancement.
For the most part, UKIP is a symbol of the prevailing
anti-politics mood. However, I would
argue that Labour’s alienation from the electorate runs much deeper than our
own. With the Liberal Democrats fast
becoming an irrelevance through much of the country, Labour, as the sole major
opposition party should be doing much better than it is.
Ed Miliband and Ed Balls believed that the unpopularity of
the Government would carry the electorate on a leftwards tide and marched
Labour out to the left in anticipation.
Yet there is little evidence that the public want to see the Brownite solutions
of the two Eds namely more borrowing.
Indeed, if anything the public seem to be lodging their protest with the
essentially conservative, if vague agenda of UKIP.
Labour’s plan to sit back and watch the electorate move
left has failed, but as you would expect from the ‘Plan B’ party, Labour has
an alternative up its sleeve – the 35% strategy. Labour is hoping that it can win with its 29%
at the last election and around 6% from disaffected left leaning Lib Dems. With UKIP eating into the Conservative vote
and Labour’s advantage from the current boundaries, 35 per cent could be enough
to deliver them with a narrow, lowest common denominator victory.
As Labour pins its hopes on a narrow leftist coalition, it
leaves large sections of the electorate essentially ‘in play’. Many of these will be the blue collar voters
in the marginal seats we need to reach if we are to win. UKIP offers them a protest in mid-term, or
perhaps they have yet to be convinced to vote at all, but I believe we can
offer them the agenda for government which they long to see – a government
which is on their side and acts in their interests.
The polling conducted by Lord Ashcroft shows that many of
the views and values of this demographic aligns best with the Conservatives, however,
if we are perceived as not being for them then they are unlikely to put their
trust in us come 2015.
How we show people that we are on their side
will be our focus on Monday. If you
would like to join us for this important discussion please email: Richard@bluecollarconservatism.com