Stephan Shakespeare has recently called them the floating non-voters. Australia’s John Howard calls them battlers. In America they were the Reagan Democrats. For Mrs Thatcher they became known as Essex Man. The ConservativeHome dictionary calls them strivers.
Battlers, Reagan Democrats and strivers etc do not encompass exactly the same political constituency but each definition and phrase is pointing to the importance to modern-day conservative parties of lower income, hard-working families. With many wealthier people drifting leftwards the Conservative Party needs to attract lower income strivers if it is to have any chance of building a winning coalition.
Strivers have been hardest hit by Labour’s failures – by stealth taxes, the marriage penalty, crime, rising journey-to-work times, long hospital waiting lists and Gordon Brown’s means-testing maze. In today’s Sunday Telegraph Iain Martin is worried that Project Cameron is failing to talk to the strivers. The party, he warns, is in thrall to ‘Letwinism’ and its talk of a more beautiful, socialable Britain – all very well but not likely to butter many parnsips. Gordon Brown’s people, he writes, have noticed this and may have finally alighted upon a strategy to overcome Cameronism:
"After initially painting him as a Right-wing chameleon, the Number 11 team are preparing a more coherent assault on the Conservative leader. The Tories’ repositioning, they believe, leaves them talking to a metropolitan, liberal audience that will not decide the result of the next election. Instead, Mr Brown’s focus will be on Britons who strive for a better life for their families on salaries that are on the lowish to middling side. These, Thatcher’s children grown up, are puzzled by what they see of the new Tories: a nice, attractive leader but beyond that a lot of hot air when it comes to the hard realities of improving their lot in life. That Gordon Brown’s policies have trapped some of them in the web of tax credits is immaterial; he will be shameless in appealing to their instincts."
The Tory leadership does not need to abandon its outreach to higher income values voters. The environmental and social justice messages are essential to unseat LibDem MPs but the party also needs to twin these ‘breadth’ messages with action on affordable housing, relief from Britain’s record tax burden, more action on anti-social behaviour and control of immigration. It’s called the ‘politics of and‘!
Related link: Cameron woos ‘Curtisland’