A week on from the Budget and it’s looking good for the Conservatives and bad for Labour. George Osborne has gone a long way to exorcising the omnishambolic ghosts of 2012, while Ed Miliband’s brilliant tactic of not having an economic policy might have finally run out of road.
Of course, we don’t yet know if Cameron and Osborne can hold on to the ground they’ve regained over the last seven days – but if they do, might that not provide a secure base from which to win the next election?
No, says Marcus Roberts in the New Statesman. His analysis is well worth our attention:
“All parties face a fundamental choice at elections between managing decline by trying to cling on to as much of their existing vote as possible or shaping a new electoral coalition. New Labour successfully won re-election twice by managing its declining vote share, whilst President Obama created a new electoral coalition between 2008 and 2012.
“The big choice for Conservative strategy was whether to reassemble their 2010 coalition of support and craft a policy offer to bring them back, or to look to a new pool of voters, particularly Labour-inclined blue collar voters who either voted Labour in 2010 or sat out the election whilst still self-identifying as Labour.”
Roberts describes this block of the electorate as “Robert Halfon’s voters”:
“Their opinions might be considered conservative on matters of immigration or welfare but progressive on public services or bashing the banks.”
A successful appeal to this group, by one party or the other, could transform the electoral landscape:
“Blue collar voters hold the key to breaking out of the mid-30s poll ratings that currently make for the ceiling of Tory support or the floor of Labour’s. By increasing turnout amongst this group, Labour can reach the 40s. Equally, by flipping Labour’s working class support, the Tories could head for a majority.”
Was the beer and bingo theme of the Budget a sign that George Osborne has embraced “Halfonism”? Not really:
“…‘Beer and Bingo’ is at best superficial engagement with blue collar voters falsely premised on the belief that they can be bought off with a good night out, rather than see their deeply held concerns about schools, hospitals, wages and housing addressed.”
Instead, the red meat of the Budget – the measures on pensions and savings – signalled a more limited ambition:
“By seeking to win back Conservative-minded pensioners, Osborne aims only to bring Tory poll numbers out of the low 30s and into the mid-30s.”
The Chancellor has chosen a rational, if self-interested, strategy. He knows very well that breaking the mould of British politics would require the visionary policy-making that the Cameroons are neither willing nor able to contemplate. Furthermore, even if such policies were to be developed, the Party would still need a top team capable of communicating the vision with credibility and conviction. Again, Osborne is canny enough to realise what the current leadership is and isn’t capable of.
In 2010, they had a half-hearted go at the vision thing – but failed to make the Big Society fly. It was the exception which proves the rule that Tory modernisers always fall back to a core vote strategy. It happened under William Hague in 2001, under Michael Howard in 2005 and is happening again under David Cameron.
Ed Miliband is also operating a safety-first, core vote strategy – the difference, though, is that Labour only needs to match or slightly exceed the Conservative vote share to put their man into Downing Street. The only way that David Cameron can survive as Prime Minister on 35% of the vote is if Labour loses ground to other parties.
Therefore, as things stand, Dave and George are relying on Nick and Nigel to win them the next election.